Spider Time, William GilsonThe jacket is white with a grey oblong in the middle, inside which is an abstract full colour design. It looks like a piece of folded paper, but may be a painting. Shapes are triangular, with a point at the base. Colours are sky blue, dark blue, bright orange. The centre fold has orange/yellow lines spraying out from it, like the sun's rays. The title is centred in bold black lower case above the design. The author's name is below the design oblong, in black italics, slightly smaller than the title.

Wayleave Press, 2022    £6.00

The personal and the public

What is ‘spider time’? I suspect it’s a way of looking at time itself rather than a specific period/season, even though the title poem ‘Spider Time’ specifies that it is

         toward the end of September
when spiders appear.

Perhaps the web is even more important than the spider, judging by the meticulously detailed descriptions. In ‘The News is not News, It’s Next to Nothing’, for example, the poet observes:

Here, just outside this window glass, a spider
has spun a single horizontal line from frame edge to brick corner.
Tip-toeing, it dabs to that line with its spinnerets
two further threads, converging them downwards, and from where they join
spins a long single vertical, attaches it, tautens it.

There’s also a keen sense of history underpinning these poems. I started to have ideas of the poet as spider and the poems themselves as webs. Each is woven with care and a trust that the separate threads will create connectedness. In that sense, the poems are generous in their attitude to the reader. The history is personal and drawn from decades of memory (In ‘Talking with Jackdaws’, the poet mentions ‘his ‘eightieth year under way’).

Specific details are sharp and mostly left to speak directly to the reader. For example, ‘Night on the South Branch’ has all the ingredients for a first sexual encounter — Cousin Gloria, a boat, ‘billions of stars’ — but the poem steadfastly maintains the innocence of its fishing metaphor:

She bails some more, then I bail,
then we lower our lines and wait.

Personal history is interwoven with public events. ‘No Combatant, I’ tells how the poet ‘avoided death or maiming’ and is followed immediately by ‘Civil War’, which uses source material in a web of superficially unconnected vignettes. Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson make appearances but within the specific context of ‘Alison’s Dream’.

I enjoyed this broad-ranging cocktail of history and memory. The final poem, ‘The Friday that made No Difference’, describes how it took most of the afternoon to hoover all three rooms and ‘as he did, he carefully spared the spiders and their webs’.

David Lukens