The Quiet Life, Ian Harrow
The Melos Press, 2019 £5.00
Enough of poems that scream for attention, squealing their surrealist titles, ranting incontinently and throwing words across the page like a toddler having a tantrum. The greater art is in writing poems which reflect on the ‘everyday’, on our individual patterns of ordinariness and, even better, do it wryly, with a half-raised eyebrow of amused acceptance.
In ‘Unaccounted’ Ian Harrow describes what the book of such a life might look like —
It’s written in amnesia ink;
the record of existence as routine,
with inscrutable chapters of nothing-doing
and of happiness, more than a few white pages.
How much explicit happiness can we remember or quantify? The French novelist Henry de Montherlant wrote that ‘happiness writes white’ and Harrow has a way of suggesting his own relationship with that empty white space. Long vowels (‘routine’, ‘inscrutable’), his rhythm of full sentences, his attention to quiet corners, a sense of balanced observation (‘wondering which / is rain-cloud, which the lateness of afternoon’) — these underpin his acknowledgement that so much of his life (and any long life) has slipped away, but not unhappily. There are family, friends, gardens, and these are constants; taken for granted. What can ‘amnesia ink’ do except let our private histories disappear, fading even as they happen?
It’s not in fashion, as he notes in ‘The truer confession’, to be apart from ‘the unresting / unseasonal crowds as they eke out / the life of nothing better to do’ — but getting older gives permission to be more oneself, and in Harrow’s case to acknowledge ‘a staunch, incurable nonchalance, / with roots as deep as they are obscure.’
Raging against the dying of the light isn’t compulsory; there are other ways to negotiate the small daily changes to life:
The many pieces the world is in;
how better and worse it always is —
one word for another
the only change you wish to make.
[‘Return to Health’]
There should be a special shelf for ‘Quiet Poetry’. Like this pamphlet, it would be welcome.