Over the Road, Dennis Tomlinson
Dempsey & Windle, 2021 £8.00
The effective foreword
With two short paragraphs Dennis Tomlinson leads readers into this collection and frames their approach. Many poets employ notes at the back of a collection but too few use a foreword to give the equivalent of a welcome. This is an abridged version —
Contemplating a second poetry collection with places as its theme, I remembered my poem ‘What Else Happened’.
The local kids used to mooch around among the weeds, but ‘What else happened here?’ You might see the whole volume as an answer to that question, whether ‘here’ is literally the empty plot across the street, student lodgings, a domestic garden or a holiday destination.
That question ‘What else happened here?’ makes each poem seem larger. It hovers, unspoken, at the edge of reading.
Tomlinson doesn’t answer it directly but leaves it hanging: it’s somewhere for the readers’ imagination to go, mysterious, joining up other poems to see if there might be clues.
Do we need a clear, unambiguous answer? My preference is for some level of mystery, a space that’s memorable in itself. (If Walter de la Mare had coloured in the empty spaces in ‘The Listeners’, would it still be so haunting a poem?)
Take ‘Richmond Park’, five short stanzas catching the moment —
The knotted root
of an ancient oak,
crowned with yellow leaflets.
I sit to one side
on my hobnailed bench
marked with a worn heart.
A dog runs, tail wagging, to greet an unnamed ‘you’; a jackdaw flaps away towards London. Nothing much is happening, it seems. Yet this moment is surrounded by the ‘what else?’ posed in the foreword; a lot has happened. The oak is ‘ancient’, perhaps one of the survivors from the royal hunting forest, its roots deep not only in the earth but in the past. Wikipedia tells me this was where Charles I came in 1625 to escape an outbreak of plague. The modern bench has well-worn graffiti. Briefly I wonder what became of the lovers. The dog knows the ‘you’, so there’s a backstory there. The whole of London is in easy reach, if you’re a bird.
Would I have been so conscious of all this without the pamphlet’s foreword?
D A Prince