Smith/Doorstop Books, 2006 - £3.00
Ten poems and two pages of notes are included in this twenty-eight page pamphlet. Paul Batchelor is at home with both free and formal verse, and each poem has a distinct voice, tone and shape. The subject range is impressive—a dead man watches his widow re-shape her life, a snow crystal grows synthetically on a rabbit hair, Ovid laments his exile from Rome.
These poems are accessible, but complex enough to bear repeated readings. ‘To Photograph a Kingfisher’ focuses on a family over several generations. The kingfisher connects the generations in various ways. Words and phrases echo though the poem. It’s a haunting work and quoting a few lines from it wouldn’t reveal the subtle music at its centre.
‘Lebiyska Mova’ tells movingly of Ukranian travelling musicians, most of whom were killed during Stalin’s purges. The narrator picks his instrument and explains
that when the pitch is bent
& sharp or flat notes
slip into the scale
it is called
‘adding the sorrow’
There were occasional poor lines, made noticeable by their rarity. I found ‘Afterwards’ predictable and ‘Snow’, while well written, felt like a generic picture of despair.
The other poems were all strong. ‘Findings’ recalls a man who shows his young mentor the secrets of the forest, but later contracts cancer. The man remembers washing in the burn “like a fox”. The boy expresses surprise, but is corrected:
…when a fox is full of lice
he settles in a burn, his snout above the water,
a twig between his teeth. I have no
idea if this is true. The lice
swarm over him & gather
on the twig. When it is full, he lets it go: so.
That image in itself—with all its resonance—made the pamphlet well worth reading.
Rob A Mackenzie