About Leaving, Ian Glass
V. Press, 2019 £6.50
Writing around loss: concision, transference and understatement
I write computer code, choosing
words from a starved lexicon
[‘Instead of Poetry’]
Ian Glass’s surname is perfect for his poetry. In ‘About Leaving’, the writing is as sharp and clear as glass, creating a frame — a window — through which to look at emptiness, departure and loss.
Glass’s greatest accomplishment, perhaps, is the way in which he writes around leaving, rather than necessarily about it. In brief lyrics such as ‘How a Man Might Become a Mother’ (which is only seven lines), Glass encapsulates the hollowness of loss — the simultaneous thinness and weight of absence.
That ‘starved lexicon’ is present throughout this pamphlet. Poems like ‘I Will Tell You About Nothing’, or the pantoum ‘Absent’, use heavy repetition as if to imply the speaker’s inability to stretch his vocabulary wide enough to encompass the nothingness following his wife’s departure. ‘Our children are worried’, ‘the house is quiet’ repeats the speaker in understated, simple phrases.
‘In a Quiet Room’ uses both the repeated phrase ‘in a quiet room’ and internal rhyme to create a sense of echoing emptiness and entrapment. The words ‘wall’, ‘small’, ‘call’, ‘tall’, ‘appals’ and ‘all’ reverberate into the unspeakable space of the poem.
As well as using concision of form and language, Glass transfers human emotions onto objects. The effect of this seems to be another form of understatement, or numbing — a viewing of the most painful feelings through a sheet of glass. The pamphlet’s opening poem, ‘This Year’, examines a birdbox that — like the relationship at the heart of these poems — ‘won’t last another winter’. Similarly, ‘When You Are a Brick’ uses an ‘anonymous’, supportive brick as an analogy for the role which a remaining parent must play for their children when their partner leaves or dies.
By writing around leaving — by skirting the edges of grief — Glass communicates these experiences and feelings in a way which embodies them. Here are poems about states of being at once as empty — and full — of reflections as glass.