Blinkbonny, 2007 (price unstated)
This 16-page pamphlet has a cover of thin yellow card featuring a poorly photocopied photograph of the author’s father in army uniform. There’s no price tag or information on how to get hold of a copy. However, the poems were better than the pamphlet’s appearance led me to expect.
The theme of the book—unsurprisingly—is war and its aftermath. The two World Wars, Culloden, Cyprus, and the Cold War all appear, along with less tangible (but no less real) wars that take place in, and for, people’s minds.
Ken Sutherland’s poems were generally well written, clear but not simplistic, and punctuated with apt images. They rarely sounded as if they’d been written from a soapbox, always a temptation with emotive subjects like war. Some poems felt too much like prose reflections, lacking the transformative metaphor, unnerving shift, or surprising word-combination to lift the poems beyond their initial promise, but there was still much to like in this pamphlet.
‘Albert’ features a French town in which a statue of the Virgin has been damaged but not dislodged by an enemy shell. The poem is written in couplets and it struck me how well the form suited the content, each couplet moving deftly from one image/idea to another:
Wired on in situ
For the war’s duration,
She gave hell’s ante-chamber
Her topsy-turvy blessing,
Hanging on up there
By her painted toe-nails.
Fine poem, but my favourite was the last one, ‘2000 AD’, in which Ken Sutherland remembers his father fighting in the Second World War. The second and final stanzas exude clarity and yet resist any attempt to reduce them to prosaic explanation:
and it’s as if History,
like wind-blown sand, has claimed him
with this new millennium
as if I might turn up Livy
on the Punic Wars, and search
for traces of him there.
Rob A Mackenzie
And the Young Reader adds:
The cover of this chapbook is made of flimsy paper, and the print is smudgy. Inside the print is tiny.
If you took the line spaces out of the poems in this book, they would be prose. I liked North Atlantic Drift, but largely they’re about nostalgia for a time I don’t remember because I wasn’t there.