Redwing Summer, Tom Bryan

Selkirk Lapwing Press, 2005 - £2.50 + 50p postage 

THERE’S SOMETHING 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 wasn’t so sure about the last line of this poem which I thought perhaps overstated what had already been hinted at, but still I liked it.

Besides, 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… 

Helena Nelson