The Bi-Plane & Other Poems, D. M. Black
Mariscat Press, 2017 £6.00
I am interested in ironing in poems, and poems about ironing, and for some years have been collecting them – a modest set so far, but perhaps one day a pamphlet-full.
So because of my ironing poem collection I was especially pleased to come across ‘A shirt from John Lewis’ (‘My shirt is Jonelle’s Carefree Cotton. / I iron it with all cares forgotten.’) It is a lovely little piece, neat and witty, carefully constructed, smoothed, folded, laid on the page without so much as a ‘petty wrinkle’.
But it seems to me this is true of all the work here. There is something precise in the poet’s way: patient, careful, measured, fluidly smooth. The poems are all different shapes and sizes, but each is beautifully assembled into a shape and form that suits it precisely.
Indeed, this poet turns a lovely line, short or long – and his lines really do vary dramatically in length. The longest (not least in the excellent title poem) stretch wider than the pamphlet and have to fold over. Here’s how ‘The Bi-plane’ starts:
I felt the small bi-lane swerve at take-off. It tottered out over the rocks
black with sea-weed,
And where the greedy fingers of the sea stuffed themselves between the skerries,
and I thought almost certainly it was a goner—
and it stalled and fell sideways. —I thought: it makes no difference, spirit or no spirit,
there is finally mechanical failure, then total eclipse, that is the truth of the universe—
As you can perhaps see from that quotation, the bi-plane is set to soar and loop down the page in a single sentence. This kind of poem is a major challenge to manage smoothly. But it works. Not a wrinkle.
The poet is just as expert in short lines, which can easily be too neat and fall short of satisfaction. But not here. Dashing away with the smoothing iron, he steals my heart away.
I’ll finish with the last words of the pamphlet – a response to Blake’s proverb ‘The cut worm forgives the plow’:
The poet’s words are warm and firm,
and yet because without a blink
he says just what I long to think,
I want to hear it from the worm.