Ladder Training, Dominic McLoughlin
Self-published, 2020 £7.00
Extending the metaphor
Dominic McLoughlin works in the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck, as well as in student counselling, a mixture that infuses his poems.
With subtle humour, the opening poem (‘News from the Philosophy Department’) moves obliquely into a parallel between ‘justice’ and engineering. Thus, ‘the economics and hydraulics of the pulley’ appeal to the philosopher’s ‘sense of balance’, requiring ‘that a paternoster / should carry them between floors.’ This offers an ‘upper hand over developers’. ‘Carbon neutral’ makes the poem contemporary, while creating surprise juxtapositions with ‘pedalo’ and ‘scooter’. Movement is implicit, extending the paternoster metaphor:
For every proposition there should be a counter
and what goes up must come down.
There’s more engineering in the witty and deftly argued ‘Ladder Training’. This title poem uses the ladder metaphor to talk about poetic ambition. Typically (without being overly emotional — let alone sensational), such aspiration progresses ‘gingerly […] towards what was effectively the stars’. ‘There’s always / danger being several rungs up from terra firma.’ Would there be ‘more room for manoeuvre / if a colleague held the ladder’? What about
a ladder [...] placed […] horizontally,
between trestles. How much of a platform did this
here-today-gone-tomorrow rigging provide?
‘The Problem of Identity’ concerns family and the ‘strings’ which govern its relations. The motion of tides and ferryboats — ‘The Morning Star and The Evening Star’ — carries the tension. The piece is almost crossword-puzzling in its intricacy (as are the rivalries of the family entailed), although clarity and precision preside, and celebrate.
Facing this is yet another poem governed by movement. In ‘Love Song with a Sandcar’, the transient nature of the lovingly created vehicle and the care with which it’s ‘patted’ and ‘scooped’ make a metaphor for adapting to childlessness. The poem digs deep, reminding us that a windscreen’s ‘glass is made of sand’.
The final ‘Slow Spring’ offers a more traditional image of ‘daily, leaf-buds / pressed forwards through their very stems’. Yet there’s a certain drama in ‘fire […] spreading that would not turn back’.
Aristotle put extended metaphor before all else in writing. Reading this strikingly original pamphlet, I’m inclined to agree.