Rose Mining, Clive McWilliam
Templar Poetry, 2018 £6.00
Making a coherent album around the hits
Older readers may recall buying albums on the strength of a single (mimed) on Top of the Pops, only to find that other tracks either had no congruence with the big hit, or were mere filler. If you were lucky, the record company might have indulged the artist’s ambition to create ‘art’, a concept album perhaps, from which hit singles would then be plucked.
I was reminded of that when I read the publication credits here, which include highly prestigious journals. (Curiously, neither credits nor bio mention McWilliam’s third prize in the National and first in the Plough; curiouser still, no word of the pamphlet winning Templar’s own 2017 competition.) Because how poems are sequenced around the ‘hits’ matters, doesn’t it?
These pleasing poems have varied forms — invariably stanzaic, plus two block-poems, a tanka and a six-liner — and all, bar one, are unrhymed. The small, almost-A5 size of the publication slightly inhibits appreciation of how well the poet uses form, although one can still see that his ideas have found their forms organically.
The subject-matter seems to me disparate, without a discernibly conscious patterning. The admirable title-poem, set in ‘the chill / of Flin Flon, Manitoba’, imagines rose (lithium) mining literally, evoking an unsettling image of miners who ‘used to come back blackened’ but are now ‘flushed with rouge / bouquets, dusted with pollen’.
Several other poems describe rural landscapes, perhaps of Cheshire where McWilliam lives. ‘Call it Spring’, for example, depicts ‘Mena’s hen’:
With the rain on her back she’s a shock
to the touch, but Mena would grasp her
like bagpipes to her chest—
‘You’re going nowhere today little hen’
Other poems feature: Shackleton; Turner and the Thames; Klimt; and birds (ptarmigan and kingfisher).
In the most imaginative piece, ‘Boxer of Qurinal’, the narrator lovingly dreams of the Ancient Greek sculpture sitting before him: ‘the copper in the bronze // has congealed beneath your swollen neck, / reddened lips, nipples and wounds’.
For me, the collection is not a winningly coherent ‘album’. However, as a set of poems that illustrate subtle and varied practice, there’s much of attraction here.