Harpercroft, 2006 - £2.95

Gordon Jarvie can write very well and he has something to say, as evidenced by the ‘Two Old Bulls at Kinkell’, who sit like “a pair of chinless elder statesmen,” and this rich metaphor from ‘The Angels’ Share’:


They’d explained the angels’ share: whisky lost over years

by seepage, evaporation and distillers’ tears.

It’s the difference between what is yielded up

by the uncasked barrel and what once went into it.


However, Jarvie needs a ruthless editor. There’s a slackness of phrasing and a tendency to drown poems in too many irrelevant details.


The slackness often comes from over-explanation. In ‘Close Encounter’, Arnold “in a flash…braked/ to make a textbook emergency stop”, as if such a stop could be made other than in a flash. And in “using old newspapers/ (and reading them) as I lit the living-room fire/ I saw and read the notice of Arnold’s death”, the words in parenthesis are made redundant by the line following. In ‘Black Horse’, a bird lies “twitching and motionless.” This lack of precision, several unsatisfying endings, and some poems that fail to transcend mere description of a scene or encounter, make this pamphlet at times hard going.


The best poems, I think, were ‘Seals at Tay’ and ‘Shag at Bay’, well-expressed short observations. The finest moment came at the end of ‘Carnbee Churchyard’, although the previous 38 lines describing the scene, church history, previous ministers, military graves etc would have benefitted from drastic compression. But this is good:


The saddest place is a still-unlevelled space

where lies Lucy-Jane, ‘the smallest angel’…

…Here, sensing the seasons’ gentle ebb and flow,

one tries in vain to think it might be easier

to balance loss, love and human perplexity.


Rob A Mackenzie





The Common Reader says of The Tale of the Crail Whale:


The design on the chapbook cover is clever and representative of the content but it’s overdone to repeat it on every page. The words are enough. Because for the Common Reader this is poetry perfection. There is no need to ponder the real meaning of the poem. Jarvie is direct: no difficult words and if there are, the poet considerately provides brief explanations.


The poems are sad, happy, observational, conversational but—best of all—real. ‘For the Lady who Sat Beside Me at the Poetry Reading’ was hilarious. It could have been a moan or a rant, but it was kindly written. I loved them all but if I had to pick a favourite it would be ‘A Man, Passing Through’ which made me cry and yet if you read it enough it is uplifting.  Phrased almost like a prayer, it ends:



          and thank you for peace of mind

          in spite of humankind.