Oct 25 2019
Merryn Williams casts an eye over a new collection by Michael W Thomas
Although this is a very recent collection, the sequence ‘When you were Young’ takes us back to the 1960s, a Catholic upbringing, and school English lessons where children were taught about skylarks, foreign fields and the Charge of the Light Brigade. That’s what a whole generation thought poetry was. It doesn’t appeal to Michael Thomas, whose work is distinctively modern. To demonstrate this I can’t do better than quote the whole of ‘Harbours Hill’, with its shock opening:
One day I shall return to Harbours Hill and die. On its only street cambered, gritted the colour of headache, against the fall of January stars I shall let my eyes roll back to see what my mind makes of the last quaint shuffle of life …. having looked in the window of the village’s one shop, how it gathers little marvels of winter light on stuff it never sells …. having walked the greenish length of the path beside the unattended church to see the berries drowse in their blood between the railing-spikes…. having stood in the church itself In case the breathing dust should work loose a word from a long-immured prayer. On the only street at the mouth of the path I shall set like a tumbler, my bones brewing a forward roll so when it comes I fold soundlessly, ball up where the railings meet scarps of moss. Mulch to mulch preserved a while as a randomness of sockets till the grasses of spring fill my eyes, lush over the whitened nooks in which a passenger spirit might once have bided its time.
This is a powerful poem which speaks, if I understand it rightly, about the loss of religion and a deadly boring childhood.
In the last but one section, ‘Endpapers’, Thomas contemplates, ‘the slowing of your blood’. ‘Time’s clock’ ‘flips back to zero’. We’re all getting older, and the future may be frightening, but the poet can still derive pleasure from the sight of a child being pushed in a buggy.
There are several very melancholy poems here, but Thomas is actually an amusing writer, and concludes with a sequence, ‘Feste Packs’ which gives a new slant on the cast of Twelfth Night.