Knucker Press, 2008  £6.00 -

In 2006, HappenStance Press published James W. Wood’s acclaimed Theory of Everything, and now Knucker Press brings us Inextinguishable, an equally remarkable collection of honest and deeply affective poems, each beautifully illustrated by fourteen artists from Edinburgh College of Art. Woods’ poems are records of a keen mind in conversation with a warm heart; they are compassionate, graceful, deeply human and usefully thoughtful.

Danish Composer Carl Nielsen wanted listeners of his “inextinguishable” Symphony #4, written at the height of World War I, to recognize that “music is life, and like it, inextinguishable.” James W. Wood is just as certain that (even in these desperate times of war) the stumbling awkwardness and strange fragile beauty of the everyday will sustain us; but unlike Nielsen—who uses brassy dissonance and competing percussion to awaken his listeners to the imperative of life and living—Wood gently urges his listeners to notice small details, especially those signposts of memory, planted imperfectly on the border between life and death.

Life, Wood tells us, is—yes—inextinguishable because we remember, and he reminds us that living memory depends on physical detail to activate more abstract thought and emotion. The poet has dedicated his new chapbook to his late father, and several individual poems are written for deceased friends and family members, but this spare and beautiful book does not brood. Instead, it sings with the colour of life. Details of the everyday settle jewel-like, sparkling against the flat grey of loss. Beloved great uncles are reborn and live again as steadily and securely as crows returning year after year. We see their “hands scarred from the nets. Cans of Tartan/ or whisky’s warming talismanic glow” (‘The Craws’). Similarly ‘Catherine Wheel’ (“a hand and a key. Eyes aflame…”) gives warmth and body to a young suicide who must compete, as Nielsen’s horns compete with desperate drums, with the wild image of a Catherine wheel, spewing first blood, then sparks on drier ground.

Memory is a storehouse of image, details attached to the life of the beloved, and although that collage of image may preserve the past, Wood’s poems suggest that it may not be memory that makes life inextinguishable. There is something greater at stake here, a greater heather, a richer bloom. In the last stanza of ‘An Fraoch Mhor’, which opens the collection, Wood allows us to see what he has gained through his conversations with memory:

Let memory go now
for in this flower I hold
the things that I have learned
and the first love of the world.

Love allows us to see and feel the world, and love gives birth to the beauties of memory. Love is where we settle. Love brings us home, inextinguishable.


Tia Ballantine