Sunday, 31 August 2008

Inextinguishable - James W Wood

James W Wood (Knucker Press,
If you enjoyed James Wood’s 2006 HappenStance chapbook The Theory Of Everything half as much as I did, then you’re probably not going to take too much convincing to buy this, his latest pamphlet, a handsome full-colour publication matching the response of 13 artists to his poems. So, my apologies if you’re already converted, because I’m going to preach to you anyway (something the poems never do, incidentally).

The first thing to say is that this collection represents significant progress from an already impressive starting point. That HappenStance pamphlet was notable for the sheer variety it offered, with Wood leavening the more serious, resonant moments by taking off at all sorts of playful tangents. The poems in Inextinguishable, on the other hand, are much more homogenous, the better to carry their considerable elegiac weight.

And carry it they do. The first poem, An Fraoch Mhor, sets the tone simply but movingly, both looking back to the past and imploring “Let memory go now”, and several of the other pieces here explore that tension – on the one hand, wanting to do justice to people and places past, on the other, wanting to move on into an uncertain future.

Fine craftsman that Wood is, he knows just when to deploy that plain, unvarnished style elsewhere. The Craws, for example, contains the lines:
“…You were
no prize-winner, sportsman or great thinker,
just a man like any other, and one
whose life asks us for little grieving.”

The emotional impact of the poem is all the greater for that willingness to speak a simple, unvarnished truth, to do much more than a little grieving without ever slipping into sentimentality, an effect that’s replicated elsewhere.

Another favourite was Catherine Wheel, an elegy which closes with the fine:
“…you were
a Catherine Wheel blazing brilliantly

in a ploughed field at midsummer, a spark
that might have cloaked us all in fire
if only we could have seen it.”

And the final poem, The Orchestra Plays Nielsen’s ‘Inextinguishable’, serves to gently but firmly restate what we’ve already taken from what’s gone before:
music is life, and like it, inextinguishable.
A principle
for every anxious soul to follow,
forged and hammered in our heart’s crucible,
the beat that trips and will not rest,
all things in ebb and flow.”

Taken on their own, these poems add up to a very strong chapbook collection, so maybe I saw the artists’ responses as something of a pleasant but inessential bonus. Perhaps a few too many seem to interpret Wood’s words a little too literally, but I liked Jaimie Lane’s By The Station Café, Fiona Purves’ Thirteen and Elizabeth Walker’s Catherine Wheel in particular.

But it’s the poems that I really want to talk about. Buy them, read them, and wonder when this man is going to get the full collection his talents deserve.

1 comment:

Frances said...

Your chosen extracts are indeed sonorous and moving, Matt. This is obviously someone to look out for.