Each year I have the pleasure of working with a group of readers to collectively select the books that will feature in a reading programme, Summer Reads. Between August 2013 and January 2014, the Readers' Circle will work through a longlist of more than 150 books to find the 6 titles that we fall in love with and want to recommend to other readers. And throughout that period I'll be posting some of the reviews here on Books, Time and Silence.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of this book.
Guest review by Sue Badger
This is a collection of poems and prose-poems set in 3 distinct parts, lyrical reflections on existence and connections: the minutia of memories of childhood (part 1), observations of the wider world in relation to self perception (part 2), and emerging sexuality (part 3).
The tone is set in the preface poem ‘This’, where the strident beauty of the thrush’s song is juxtaposed with the ‘common hell’ built by Man: “Whatever else there is, there’s this as well.” Existence, and the memory of past resonate through most of the poems: Maitreyabandhu, always modest and self-effacing, emphasises that while memories are imperfect or incomplete, it is the emotions evoked that are important. In Burial the strong recollections of his father unearthing skulls and bones are immediately tempered by “But that isn’t right, / .... I’ve mistaken/ my father’s story for the thing itself.” Both the pleasure and pain of childhood memories are explored in closely observed detail; occasionally in the observer’s 2nd person narrative, as in The Coat Cupboard, where the discovery of a keyring and grandma’s lipstick is far more profound than the emergence of a magical land such as Narnia; or the excellent prose-poetry of Copper Wire, where the evocative language describes a family outing to the seaside, and in which each parent and sibling discover delights personal to their desires: the mother a sunset, the father some buried copper wire... Suffering and embarrassment are recollected in Potato – a school child’s fear and humiliation, (sentiments alluded to over 200 years ago in William Blake’s ‘Songs of Experience’) : “Each little word got harder as the big word came along ...” culminating in the worst of punishments: “You’ll stand in front of class until you say it!” , or the cutting shame felt with the father expressing his disappointment in his son’s decision in Bottle Digging: “We drove in silence home.... And I’m still ashamed of what I did.”
In the 2nd part the poet explores the poignant acceptance of life’s existence in its simplest form, as in ‘Rangiatea’, (Maori for ‘the place out there’), but again recollection is obscured by confused memories: “He couldn’t decide if the island was real/ or just the interval between sleeping/ and waking, known only from the corner/ of your eye...”, and accepting that life cannot be measured by events that have occurred. Many of these central poems express an essentially Buddhist spirituality, as in ‘Letters on Cezanne’, where connections are observed, sometimes precise, sometimes obscure.
Particularly eloquent is the acutely observed relationship between him and Stephen in the final poems: emotional realisation is explored through gentle inference, where the need for secrecy and discretion is paramount and heightens awareness. An overwhelming sense of guilt pervades the poems, yet the yearning to connect – a look, a touch, a mutual recognition of urgency – drives the uncertain alliance on until Stephen’s early death lays realisation bare, and memories – always tempered by the ambivalence of truth and desire, are revealed to be as transient as Hansel’s crumb road.
The Crumb Road was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2013. ISBN: 9781852249748; 79pp
Sue Badger is a retired English teacher who has always enjoyed reading. She regards herself as a discriminatory (some may say intolerant) reader : with so many good authors out there, across the genres, why aim low?