No guiding star, John Mills
Fair Acre Press, 2020 £7.50
A witty light in the dark
This is a powerful pamphlet that touches on themes such as chronic illness (Mills has Parkinson’s Disease), caving, and relationships. It was hard to choose only one point of interest because many appealed to me, but Mills’ wit weaves through these poems, even in the darkest moments, and that’s what stays with me. When I read the opening poem, ‘Conjugation’, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry:
In the beginning was the verb
and the verb was
The witty word play continues to the final haunting stanza:
His fumbling is comical
‘What dreams may come’ also looks at illness from an unusual perspective:
It is not the book
that trembles in the night
but the reader.
‘Darkness’, a poem about caving, is a mirror poem, so it comes full circle and, like ‘Conjugation’, uses skilful wordplay and repetition:
how fast the heart
how deep the water
How deep the water
how fast the heart
There are also some beautifully quiet poems about relationships. The poem ‘Pies’, for example, is a wonderful celebration of a mother. It made me laugh out loud:
But the day she got a freezer coddled her mind.
She embarked on a frenzy of baking.
Alas, this was only for the baker to realise ‘she hadn’t labelled a single one. / For months on end we had Surprise pie.’
Not all relationships end well. Mills has the knack of creating the unexpected, as in ‘Autumn Leaves’ which starts as a lyric poem:
There was an edge to the air,
a flicker of rain in the breeze,
red leaves tussocked
round the feet of lamp posts.
It ends, however, on a very different note, once again revealing Mills’ witty take on things:
I was there at seven
but she stood me up.
A few littered fag ends
in the shop doorway.
The poems in No guiding star are skilfully ordered, contrasting light with dark. I’m glad this pamphlet has come my way. I can’t quite put it out of my mind....