Sun, Jos Smith

Guillemot Press, 2017  £7.00

Where everything mattersFull colour portrait jacket, and it's very blue, a deep turquoise blue, but lighter blue towards the top which is clearly sky. Not a picture of the sun at all, but white streaming light, perhaps. I think it deliberately gives the impression of looking into the sun and feeling dazzled. Light is flowing in white stripes from the top half down towards deep blue land, possibly. I think maybe a hill side, maybe with a building or two, and below it the hill, though the hill seems also to have the texture of veins of a leaf superimposed. Abstract but gives an effect of something very bright. The title in black, slightly right of centre and in large caps -- the S slightly larger than the UN, and all this in the bottom third of the portrait page. The author's name is small, lower case, and white just below the black SUN.

I like this book. Am drawn to the look of it, the shape (squarer than most), textures, type and paper (‘Mohawk Superfine’, the Guillemot Press webpage informs me). I love the bonus endpapers, with their intriguing, black-and-white, overexposed photo of a window – ‘a solargraph and pinhole photography image by Dave Wise’, the website says – itself a thing of beauty.

When I dive in to read, I’m not disappointed. Sun is a beautiful collection. The title holds the focus well. These poems are all firmly about our sun – experimenting in finding language to explore this most elusive and omnipresent subject:

You rose and looked about the garden,

little arms weightless, but your almost
        speech cut short.

Quick, quiet, and autumnal all at once

It darts all over the place, leaving plenty of room for the reader (this is good). One time, I found myself reaching for a different kind of ‘story’, wondering if you can have that title (Sun) without contending with a whole other field of reference – the word ‘son’, itself so pod-like. The poems suddenly seemed to hold those two in balance: the largest and brightest, and the smallest, most vulnerable. As though there is a tiny, fragile pulse beating somewhere, and struggling to continue beating, inside these poems.

Here’s ‘This Time’, which starts ‘Carry this tripping thing, call it a pulse’, and then has many notions which echo from earlier poems:

[...] waiting to radiate, roar; feed it,
keep it, smuggle it, carry

this tripping thing, hide it.

Or maybe it’s the actual sun we’re ‘carrying’? Something fragile for which we’re all responsible – and which of course feeds all earthly life, however tenuous.

I like being sent in these various directions. This seems to me to signal a satisfying poetic project, each aspect working – and me, too, part of the circle. Ultimately, anyway, everything seems gathered here, all we suffer and grow and (eventually) lose under our sun’s light. And just how much we have to lose now: somehow, brilliantly, our whole ecology seems present.

Charlotte Gann