Strange, such strength, Andrew McCulloch
Rack Press, 2016 £5.00
Gravity and love and war
This slight pamphlet (twelve pages of poems) lives up to its title’s tension, with clear, short, seemingly light poems that are big in scope and feeling. For example, the title poem on gravity and parental love:
I lift my sleeping daughter’s hand.
Its loose, unresisting weight
Holds the stars in place.
Other loving poems bring together the youth and age of the speaker’s parents, and their generation’s wars. McCulloch does this within the concision and constraints of the sonnet (and the traditional form seems appropriate, giving the parents and subject matter due respect).
In ‘The Light of Day’, the poem starts with the present-day father and son gardening, then uses the stanza-break to move to the past, and the image of smoke to tie the two scenes:
Later, propped on his sticks, he lit a fire:
I could see the shafts of sunlight marbling
The columns of smoke that he moved amongst
As he came up the garden to the house.
And this is how I picture Alamein,
Him staggering from his burning, stricken tank
The companion poem about the mother (‘September 3, 2014’) uses the same form, but cleverly brings past and future together in a different way, through the mother’s confusion of times. The movement here is between the present (‘a gentle autumn sun /that’s careful not to fall too heavily / on those who sit and dream their days away), the mother’s confusion of the past with the present (‘It’s only her that keeps me in the WAAF / she says of Anne whose name she can’t recall) and the threat of planes in the sky now. The poem ends in the mother’s voice, taking something that could have been a perfectly nice but slightly patronising poem into something that chillingly collapses the distances between war and peace, and between generations:
You don’t think that the war’s going to come back.
But it has. It’s here again. Imagine that.