Mariscat Press, 2007 - £5.00 www.scottish-pamphlet-poetry.com
The first poem in this handsomely produced chapbook, ‘Maxims’, starts off walking on the sunny side of the street, and ends up “smiling in the dark”, and that neatly encapsulates what follows—Wilson’s always well aware of the pain that exists in close proximity to love, and he’s not one to paint things a rosier hue than they deserve, but he recognizes hope and joy when he sees them too.
Many of the poems take you back to his childhood, and one of their great strengths is the way in which they capture a child’s voice without sounding mawkish or sentimental. ‘Oh Boy!’, ‘New Year 1957’ and ‘This Ward’ all impress, with their clear-eyed memories never tipping over into mere nostalgia—but it’s the book’s title poem that stands out. Its four pages of free verse use straightforward, natural language to evoke all sorts of childhood feelings—innocence, fear, freedom (of the imagination, above all) and the desire for knowledge—before bringing things back to the present day with:
We are the paper
boys and girls, managing to laugh at things
sometimes, managing a glimpse of thin green
morning, avoiding the hand that reaches up
from the stairwell’s fire to stroke, to squeeze, to crush.
Elsewhere, Wilson shows he can write fine formal verse, too. ‘A Politician Explains’ and ‘And Now, The Sport’, are excellent pantoums, with the repetition perfectly suiting the subject matter (politicians’ evasions and footballers’ inanities, respectively) rather than feeling like technical exercises, and the sonnets are subtle and well-crafted.
But things come to a close with ‘Then’, a return to childhood remembrances, and a perfect showcase for Wilson’s knack of painting little word pictures. When he writes:
the rubber date-stamp
adds a fortnight:
all the time in the world
to live another’s life
you get the impression that’s a feeling that has stayed with him intact.