Oliver Comins, Staying in Touch
Templar Poetry, 2015  £5.00

The Secret Designs of the Poet

What on earth is Oliver Comins up to? And how can a state of perpetual uncertainty be both delightful and satisfying? Lord knows. But it seems to me it can, especially in a world that’s funny and odd and ‘rich with food and options’. Take ‘All Saints’, for example, one of my favourites in Staying in Touch. The very first line had me hooked:

It wasn’t me, as such, kissing the organist

It’s the ‘as such’ that exerts the lure, enticing the reader in. It wasn’t me as such? Self-defence, or . .? But proceed. The next line reads ‘when you slipped through the church’ (so far so good) ‘/ looking for your poem’. But who is ‘you’? Is it the reader? Is it a specific person in the wings of the relationship?

I think it’s me. I imagine other readers will feel the same. I imagine they'll feel it’s personal. It’s about the way we read, to some extent at least, and about our lack-lustre search for certainty, even in All Saints where an angel has just failed to turn up for evensong rehearsal.

Oh but I find I must stop writing about this poem now and have you go and read it. It is gloriously slippery. I don’t want my analysis to undermine the charm, which I think is connected with beautiful syntax and perfect tonal control – though even these don’t fully explain why uncertainty can be so pleasurable.

But I will allow myself to draw your attention to the fact that the ‘you’ of the poem, the reader, is ‘an observer / such as yourself, determined to discover / the truth of a found image or event’ and that you may not discover that truth in this poem, or in any of the poems collected here. Which is the beauty of them.

Helena Nelson