Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Bestiary - Sam Meekings

The Bestiary
Sam Meekings (Polygon, 2008, £7.99)
You see a lot of talk these days about the extent to which poetry collections need a connecting thread, theme, arc - call it what you will.
My own feeling is that, while such binding agents can often add hugely to the success of a collection, they’re by no means essential. The more old-fashioned, ‘greatest hits’ type of approach (or rather, simply bringing together the best of a poet’s most recent poems) can work just as well for me too.
All this is by way of ponderously getting round to saying that Sam Meekings’ debut collection seems like a perfect example of how to link together poems that aren’t, strictly speaking, a sequence, but aren’t stand-alone efforts either.
As the title suggests, it’s nature that is the common element throughout, although Meekings is at least as interested in fish, amphibians, invertebrates and the shifting borders between land and sea as the birds and animals beloved of so many poets (I plead guilty). There’s a fascination with all sorts of textures and smells (the slimier and ranker the better – slime is a word that crops up regularly throughout), and a gift for rendering them real to the reader, that recalls not only Hughes, but also early Heaney, an impression that’s reinforced by Meekings’ preference for regular forms.
He uses plenty of end rhyme too, with a rare subtlety and musicality, and similarly the links he makes from his apparent subjects to human concerns are generally understated, often only apparent after a few reads.
Very occasionally, I’ll admit, he overdoes it and you long for just a little plain-speaking, or, as in Calves, he strains a bit too hard for significance when his knack for vivid description would do the job on its own.
Mostly, though, he hits a balance that’s hugely impressive for a poet in his first collection (and one who has arrived relatively unheralded). It will be interesting to see where he goes next – he’s created a considerable weight of expectation for himself, but all the signs are that he has the talent to carry it.

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