Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Self-published, 2008 £4.00
[Available from the author at: 14 East Bankton Place, Livingston, West Lothian EH54 9DB, Scotland]

If considering self-publishing a pamphlet, you could do worse than take a look at this one. Gavin Dunlop has chosen to include monochrome artwork by Shona Dougall, and she has also done the beautiful full-colour cover. The combination of words and image is sensitive and attractive. The poems are well-displayed on the page and the Contents page explains the thought-structure: four sections focussing on Scotland, Birds, California and Other Places. It’s a very attractive little publication altogether.

Of course, none of that would be much good if the poems were rubbish. But they are not. Dunlop is a careful writer, who can evoke a visual scene with enormous clarity:

          The Cairngorms are joined to the loch’s other edge
          like a children’s pop-up picture card;
          mountains folded back heavy and hard
          against sky, falling into their own perfect image.

                   (‘Loch Morlich’)

Yes, you think, reading this. That is what it is like. And again, in ‘Carngorm’, “The day is stuck like a thin fleece/ of driftwood cloud snagged on crag shadow”. A boat trip to Staffa rouses “sense of the sublime”. That, in itself, is what you might expect, but the following lines place that in a delightfully real context: “while grey seals and cormorants plunge/ and resurface, repeatedly unamazed.” That’s a lovely phrase—“repeatedly unamazed”—and Dunlop is good at that. The last line of ‘Cat’ for example, really lingers: “the small ferocities of absence”.

This is a real poet, I think, and at his best he is excellent. He has a good feeling for form and pattern too, though occasionally I felt a tension between his instinct towards metrical shaping and his decision to let the poem fall into something more like free verse. The last poem in the collection, for example, opens with three lines that are resoundingly metrical, but the next three lines diverge. The result is not a failure exactly, but the effect is odd. It doesn’t quite work for me. ‘Meadow’, on the other hand, explores a slightly looser but still formal structure and pulls it off beautifully.

I predict that a few of these poems will make it into anthologies, and I hope ‘Endless Rain’ is one of them. At the point of writing these lines, it has been raining almost continuously for three days and I can confirm that the concluding lines of this poem are absolutely true:

Colour is an empty postbag, nothing is delivered.
The sky is a grey that night and day are shades of;
union with the universe is permanently severed.

This might be how it feels to live forever.

 

Helena Nelson