Flowers by the Road, David Coldwell

Templar Poetry, 2017    £6.00

Painting a picture with a poem

Visual imagery in Flowers by the Road is strong – and the front cover holds a brilliant full colour painting (I think by the author, though not credited) illustrating the title poem. It’s a brilliant image of ‘the greatest fire our world / has ever seen or ever known’, a pyre of golden swirling flames.

I came away from reading the pamphlet with more pictures in my head. It was the visual detail that grabbed me, rather than the emotion that sometimes intensified towards the ending of a poem. (At times I would have liked a poem to stop before it did.) 

The image that has stayed with me most is the barbed hook in ‘The Cat Stone Cast’. This is a poem with a story – a true story I am sure – about the author going fishing with ‘a neighbour’s son, a boy five years older’ who knew far more about fishing than he did. The scene is set beautifully:

The world was alive but the sun would soon be gone,
dipping below Garside Hey to leave only filtered light

that charged insects to life.

It is so hot that the ‘evening sky // seemed to sag’. The other boy baits the hook with ‘squirming bait’ and prepares to make his cast. The reservoir is full of pike feeding, and the intent is to catch one. But it doesn’t work out like that:

The hook was painless; piercing my lip with the ease of a
surgeon’s blade until the barb locked as the line span out carrying
the float to a dead stop. The reel jammed and the line tightened to

drag me towards water, towards the pike.

It’s a nightmare moment – the young boy caught like a fish on the barbed hook – and the ensuing horror is understated but clear: ‘Nurses joked about a frayed face but didn’t wait for the laugh.’

I think the poem should have ended on its resonant penultimate sentence: ‘Sometimes only thunder / clears the sky’, but perhaps that’s nit-picking. The central image has stayed – its clarity, its nightmare, its veracity. I can see it.

Helena Nelson