The Topiary of Passchendaele

Merryn Williams gives a concise appreciation of a prizewinning chapbook by Christopher North which contains several prizewinning poems.

The Topiary of Passchendaele 
Christopher North
ISBN   9781912196135
32pp       £5

This pamphlet is the winner of the 2018 Poetry Business competition and contains several prizewinning and commended poems. I am going to begin by being a pedant and say at once that the contents page needs correction.

This is not, as you might think, a collection about the First World War. The title poem is written in the voice of a cemetery gardener, and is not, in my view, the standout poem in the book. My favourite is ‘Escuchalos’, which translates as ‘listen to the whispers’, and warns about our willful blindness to a possible coming catastrophe:

Talk to drown a cataract,
the Niagara in your living-room.
Talk to quell the avalanche,
a slipping hillside, the surging mud.

Talk to halt the tide,
break its remorseless rush over ribbed flats ….

You can talk and talk
but listen before the bomb obliterates.

Listen to the urgent language of the butterfly ….

Another striking poem is ‘AK47’, which is set in a quiet village where people have only seen guns on TV, but ‘who knows what is brewing/behind those expressionless doors?’ Violence can erupt anywhere.

This little book shows that Christopher North is a fine poet with a wide range.