Dreadful Night Press, 2004 - £5.00
Something—maybe the title, or the clean, sparse jacket—tells you to expect a certain tight, restrained quality in these poems, a hardness even, and initially at least expectations are fully met.
It’s not long, though, before you realise that William Gault Bonar’s real strength is the way in which he slips warmth and humanity in there too, without any fuss whatsoever. It’s an effect he pulls off particularly well in many of his Scots poems, such as ‘The Sweetest Hours’. As a Sassenach, I found that the need to read them aloud - and very slowly - brought out every last bit of their unshowy musicality.
There’s music too in poems such as ‘Since Sally Met Harry’, which irresistibly calls Dylan to mind (Mr Zimmerman, that is, not Swansea’s favourite son). Combined with the poet’s unwavering gaze it works well, and it’s only on the rare occasions that he tries a bit too hard to say something (‘Crime and Publicity’), or when he’s too self-consciously poetic (“wrens huddle in this flocculent nightmare”—‘Snowstorm’), that he hits a bum note.
Elsewhere, though, there’s a consistency of tone, a determination to ask questions no matter how difficult, that makes the occasional flashes of hard-won optimism all the more affecting.
Only one major gripe—it’s a beautifully produced chapbook, but too often the layout and sequencing seems to have been determined by attempting to pack as many poems as possible in. So you get a lot of the shorter pieces together, even when you feel they might have benefited from a bit of breathing space, and it does highlight the repetition of certain themes and phrases that might otherwise have worked more subtly. Still, value for money is never to be sniffed at, and there’s more than enough quality to make this collection just that.