Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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In Time, Douglas Reid SkinnerThe jacket is whitish but scuffed with  smeary marks like a concrete surface. The idea that it is the ground is reinforced by the toes of two trainers, right and left, at the bottom. The inhabitant of the shoes is off the picture. The jacket is bisected by two lines, one vertical, one horizontal. The right hand vertical is one third to the left of the right hand edge. The horizontal is one third up from the bottom. One trainer peeks into each of the bottom squares. The author's name, in red caps one word per line, is to the left of the vertical line in the top third. The title is to the right of this line, in larger caps and dark blue. Dates are inserted between IN and Time (1971-220) but these are much smaller then the title caps, so from a distance you don't see them.

www.douglasreidskinner.com, 2020  £5.00

In the beginning

Each of these sixteen poems has a modest footnote, giving the place and date of composition, as though that were simple. But is the date that of completion? Or of the first draft? Or of where the poem first took root? How many poets can write a completed poem — to borrow an analogy from filming — in one uninterrupted ‘take’?

What strikes me is how this apparently insignificant information has strengthened my connection to these poems. It has increased my awareness of how time and place are inseparable to Skinner. A detail which, on the surface, should be of significance only to the poet has highlighted how much the invisible side of writing can contribute.

These poems are, in the main, distilled from six previous collections and they span almost fifty years of living (and travelling) in South Africa, the USA, Italy and London. They are like a small folding map of the author’s life. The register is so consistent that without the footnote it would be hard to date the poems. ‘Now, Years Later’, which I’d initially tagged as twenty-first century, is from 1992 and opens —

Is it wistfulness or anguish brings
at five a.m. or seven in the evening
heartfelt lament that always begins,
‘Remember how we used to … then …’
trailing off and never quite ending?

It’s a reminder that yearning for other times belongs to all if us, whatever our age. ‘Bottles of Scent’, a delicate description written in triplets, is from 2016 and opens —

Because the forgotten
outweighs the remembered
as an ocean a pond

Yet these poems also live in the present anxious moment where ‘insurance/ and annual check-ups must suffice as prayers / to the fickle deity of future days’ (from ‘A Short Treatise on Mortality’). Ostensibly this is a poem about the pleasure of cigarettes. It was written in 2018, in Venice, although there’s nothing in the poem linking it overtly to Venice. But it’s a backdrop. The poem’s epigraph cites Joseph Brodsky (who also wrote on Venice, in Watermark). This linking brings a deeper sense of time, both geographical and personal, and it suits these subtle and haunting poems.

D. A. Prince