Selkirk Lapwing Press, 2005 - £2.50 + 50p postage
THERE ‘S SOMETHING rather appealing about the image of a redwing on the front of a pamphlet printed by Selkirk Lapwing press. I also liked the way the first poem (which is also the title poem) introduced that redwing “with red epaulettes” singing over a grave—touching on the idea of loss, grief, haunting memory. ‘Redwing Summer’ ends obliquely with “If birdsong might open graves/ and raise the dead/ it could happen here.” And then the second poem seems almost to pick up directly from the first. The first few words of ‘It Came Upon a Sunday’ are: “So it did, on the same breeze/ working the chestnut tree.” The “ball-and-chain/ of memory” represents a sense of underlying pain which remains unexplained, but no less potent for that.
Memory is a rich source of material for Tom Bryan. Sometimes it’s a person (‘Hey, Eddie Rae’ is particularly good) and sometimes a whole era. In ‘Shell Shock’, for example, a friend’s uncle is described, but he is only one of a set of survivors:
Men moved quietly in the back rooms,
came for a week, staying forever.
And there are poems which either hint at stories or, like ‘D.B. Cooper’ unfold the whole narrative—the tale of Daniel Cooper, who parachuted out of a commercial jetliner with $200,000. I wanted to cut the last line of this poem which I thought overstated what had already been hinted at, but still I liked it. But this is not a poet who generally overstates: these are modest, quietly spoken texts, holding more than meets the eye. Bryan has a fine sense of irony, too. His last poem, ‘Things I’ve Made’ ends with this comment:
I could make an even longer list
of the things I never made
(or can’t or won’t)
And, very neatly, there’s no full stop…
Redwing Summer can be purchased from www.selkirklapwingpress.co.uk