Ian Harker: The End of the Sky
Templar Poetry, 2015  £5.00
A winner of the 2015 Templar Pamphlet Awards

Come Back Lazarus. It's Worth It.

I’ve come back many times to the poem ‘Lazarus Awake’, though much else here is worth revisiting. Lazarus poems abound, of course, but this is one of the best. Lazarus, in this incarnation (and reincarnation) is working for United Dairies when he ‘dropped down dead’. The death phrase is comical, a little over-the-top. Lazarus likes it, repeats it twice in two lines, and then again six lines later ‘dropped down dead’.

Repetition becomes a key feature, and something about it whips up narrative pace. Lazarus’s wife is called Sandra, and it’s a Bank Holiday. These details drop into the mix both casually and deliberately. ‘So far, so inevitable. Hundreds of people / drop down dead every day’ – and there he goes again with the drop-dead phrase. The poem is entirely comfortable in its conversational mode; and this is what we do when we talk – repeat the phrases we like best. Soon it’s ‘chuck me over the fence’ that’s repeated, and then Lazarus describes Sandra’s reaction when he turns up alive and she says it was ‘just like me, /entirely like me’.

There are sound repetitions (which is all rhyme is) in ‘I don’t think I can stay’, ‘only have been dead / for a few days’, ‘pay out any day’, ‘take myself away, away to the East Coast’. And then it’s ‘Spurn Point’ he thinks of going to, repeated three times, and ‘the meaning of it’, repeated twice. Something complicated is going on in the sound and phrasing:

I want to sit with Spurn Point on the tip of my tongue
under the cry of the gulls with the lighthouse hauling its huge light
into the sea and work out the meaning of it –
dead in the drive, alive at Spurn Point

It’s the letter ‘t’ in ‘Point’ that the tip of the tongue feels (try it), and the same ‘t’ at the end of ‘meaning of it’. There it goes again in ‘sit’ and ‘tip’ and ‘tongue’ and ‘light’.

Life and death, Lazarus. The meaning of it. The precision of a letter on a living human tongue.

Helena Nelson