Smith/Doorstop, 2007 - £3.00

This pamphlet was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, and it didn’t take me long to see why. 19th Century Blues is an absorbing meditation on time— beautifully written, subtle and complex without ever becoming obscure.


‘The Age of the Empty Chair’ combines well-observed imagery with an unnerving precision of thought. The setting is a Monet painting, a beach scene during the Franco-Prussian war. An empty chair lodges into the sand between two women. The poem relates the ebb and flow of time, its waves and revolutions, and:


The chair suggests all that can be suggested about change, but it remains


apart from it: the way a sail suggests the wind, the way a shell holds

a recording of the waves even as the waves turn around it.


The poem charts the way absences and presences can simultaneously congregate in a moment of time. It’s worth the price of the pamphlet in itself.


Many of the poems concern loss, time slipping by. So when clock hands meet at midday (‘Noon at the Doubletree Hotel’), the hours then “fall away”. In a grey urban landscape (‘Spleen: Cardiff Matchday Blues’), “the stopped/clock gets it right/ pretty much all day”. Patrick McGuinness’s vision is resolutely downbeat, but the quality of his writing is energising.


‘Lists’ is a poem in six short sections concerning a father’s death by cancer. The poem is unsparing in its depiction of loss:


Unlovable as ever, yet he was brave,

with that aura of unshared suffering

that spared us everything but grief at knowing

what we felt was not exactly grief.


These poems reach into the complexity of human love and loss and don’t flinch from saying what needs to be said, difficult as it may be.



Rob A Mackenzie