Plain green cover with black letteringLife On Another Planet, Gerry McGrath

Dreich, 2022       £6.00

Sparks, rainbows and explosions

Gerry McGrath’s collections have been published by Carcanet, and he’s author of many articles and reviews. He tells us that this pamphlet’s about the ‘strange, stirring, uplifting joy of seeing things differently.’

The poem ‘Up Law Hill’ draws me to these beautiful lines:

soft lanterns soft
Of my rainbow colours.

Its dreamlike quality intrigues me. A bodiless voice, the crunch of snow, sheep ‘slow like fairground horses o’. The final stanza bursts with surreal imagery as the ‘us’ (two protagonists) run from reality.

An ekphrastic poem based on Francis Cadell’s painting Iona, East Bay — ‘Francis Cadell on Iona’ — celebrates the colourist on whom the island had a profound effect and where he truly found himself.

The light, rocks, the green of the kelp, bladderwrack and salt grass erupt from the poem’s lines. ‘Something exploded generously / On East Bay.’ And in the narrator’s mind it evokes ‘a picture ending / before it begins in the time / before time’ — exciting a personal interpretation of how paint is employed. As reader, I feel transported to another destination, then brought back down to earth. It’s my favourite piece in the pamphlet.

‘By Portencross’ is made up of five sections, growing increasingly obscure as we walk through the landscape. The narrator seems to be on a quest. I’m led along a beach, a coastal path, to a ruined castle. Using colour — blue, silver, barley, purple, golden wrappers — the narrator contemplates an unnamed love:

                                             it’s me
Talking to you in the only way I can
Under the coming rain tenderly.

I wonder, is that love physically present, lost or unrequited? So many of the poems hold enigmas. I love the sparks contained in these lines from sections 2 and 3:

                                           the half moss
half burnished stone.

A line of purple turnips
Like a headhunter’s grizzled trophies jangle.

Ideas brew and clash against seasonal light and wildlife colour. The mind analyses. The natural world follows its course.

These are poems designed to surprise. In that, they achieve.

Maggie Mackay