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Knots and Branches — Stewart CarswellAll lettering on the cover is black and centred. The author name comes first in thin caps, then the title far bigger in lower case. At the very bottom the Eyewear Aviator logo and title. The back ground is a wallpaper design in beige and green. Squares with lighter blobs inside them, abstract, soothing.

Eyewear Publishing, Aviator Series, 2016   £5.00

Keeping a dry eye amid the deluge

If the cover design and the title don’t give it away then the poems surely will. Stewart Carswell is a poet with a thing for nature — these poems are thick with woods, hills, flowers and stars.

The reader is rarely situated indoors in this pamphlet. We’re four poems in before we get to a building and even then, we don’t get inside until the eighth poem where we make it to a pub for a well-earned drink after all that time outside. We meet a writer

    at the corner table […] with a habit
to hide, filling notebooks with lines
like a barman maintaining a tab,

keeping it written down until the day
when it will be worth something.’

Like a good mud pie where all the earth and leaves are suspended in water, it’s the liquids that bind this book together. There’s the rain in ‘The Wedding Present’, then more rain in ‘Heavy rain’ with a river bursting its banks and the helpless trees watching ‘their children drown / downstream’.

There's also frozen water in ‘Locked Pools’, and a larger body of water with ‘the sloping flow / of the ocean upon crushed sand’ in ‘On The Anniversary’. Finally we get two liquids for the price of one in the form of booze and blood in ‘Tools’.

Another binding factor is the intense feeling of battle at play in the poems — battles within relationships, battles with jealousy, impermanence and accepting ourselves — a process of looking back at where we’ve been and who we’ve been there with, and looking forward to where we want to be.

The last lines in the final poem talk of ‘connecting together the faint memories of youth / to create a set of stories to navigate by.’ It is perhaps these connections that form the knots and branches of the pamphlet’s title.

I raise a glass to Stewart Carswell. This is a fine debut and I want to see what happens when he comes inside for a bit. 

Mat Riches