London Grip Poetry Review – Tony Dawson



Poetry review – REFLECTIONS IN A DIRTY MIRROR: Charles Rammelkamp surveys Tony Dawson’s somewhat bleak view of the world


Reflections in a Dirty Mirror
Tony Dawson 
Impspired Press, 2024
ISBN: 978-1915819949
65 pages      $11.99

In the introduction to his new collection, Tony Dawson casts a pessimistic eye toward the current geopolitical situation, from the Middle East, Ukraine, China and Taiwan to the increasingly authoritarian bent in American politics. The epidemic of gun violence in the United States and the plight of the homeless add to his cynicism: ‘is it any wonder that these are blurred reflections in a dirty mirror?’ he asks.

Indeed, the very first poem, “Epitaph for a Liar,” sets the tone. Though Dawson has lived in Spain these past decades, he’s a native of London, and continues to engage with UK politics. ‘Here lies a British Prime Minister,’ the poem begins and the next line screams with Dawson’s sarcastic wit: ‘as he did throughout his life.’ He’s clearly writing about Boris Johnson, ‘a fat roué of great renown,’ though he never names names.

The epitome of penny-dreadful dastards
whose thoughts never rose above his waist,
he populated the country with little bastards,
and departed this life utterly disgraced.

Of course, Johnson is alive and well, and this description could apply to many politicians, British and otherwise. (I’m looking at YOU, Donald Trump.)

Something of a Twenty-first Century Jeremiah, Dawson elaborates on humanity’s moral failures and social injustices. In “The Herod Strain” Dawson philosophizes about the global gun epidemic, from Dunblane, Scotland, to the United States, almost a genetic inheritance from Cain. “Conscience,” “Portrait of an Indigent” and “Springtime in Seville” all deal with the homeless and less fortunate in Dawson’s community. Of each of the characters the same could be said, as he writes of Antonio in “Portrait of an Indigent,” who is ‘killing time while time / is slowly killing him.’

But there is also a great deal of wordplay and humor in Reflections in a Dirty Mirror. “North American Conundrum” plays on “life,” “death,” and “evil” (“lived,” “vile” and “veil”) in making a wry observation about existence, and “A Muse or Amusing” is likewise full of clever wordplay, as its title suggests. Perhaps his most ingenious poem in this strain is “A Signal Failure,” inspired by London Grip editor Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, as Dawson mentions in his notes, with its play on the dots and dashes of Morse Code. The poem begins, ‘“I” was dotty about “you”’ and ends – after the reader is challenged to connect all of the dots, of course – with the penultimate line:

• • // • — • • / — — — / • • • — / • // — • — — / — — — / • • —

which means:

I // L / O / V / E // Y / O / U

The final line, however, is a bit harsher: ‘Morse…Remorse…Life…a signal failure.’

Dawson also wittily channels a number of diverse artists, from Robert Frost (“Acquainted with the Night”), to Johnny Cash (“Riders of the Setting Sun”) and Robert Browning (“Poem with (a parody of) a Phrase from Browning”). “The Medieval Mind” provides a grim, though humorous, take on the prudery of the Middle Ages, the twelfth-century Sheila-na-gigs that were meant to ward off Eve’s sin of sexuality.

Dawson’s flash fiction pieces are also more light-hearted but no less clever. Homophone” is another dexterous language piece, just as “How to Spin a Yarn” has the humor of a bawdy French fabliaux. “Ho Ho Ho” is a three-part humorous re-take on Jack and Jill, the two fairy tale kids who went up the hill, and “The Night Before Christmas” is another humorous piece where everything goes wrong, if it can. ‘One group of elves had taken up cudgels on behalf of Greta Thunberg.’ Animal rights activists and the Screenwriters and Actors Guild also throw a monkey-wrench into Saint Nick’s Christmas Eve plans.

Now in his 80’s. Tony Dawson reflects on age throughout the collection, both in verse and in prose. The poem, “Photographic Memory” begins, ‘I am at an age when forward visibility / is lost in the fog of journey’s end.’ It’s a family memory from childhood. “March 1958” is another memory poem, this one about school friends in the Spanish province of Salamanca. Both are accompanied by photographs. “View from the Summit” (‘Life is thrust upon us, unrequested, / to make of it the best we can’) is reflection in the mirror of time. “Old Flames” is another recollection of past loves, while two love poems for his wife, Janet, “Saved” and “An Anniversary Love Poem for My Wife,” both full of gratitude for his partner, put the passage of time in perspective.

Indeed, when all is said and done, what Tony Dawson sees in the dirty mirror is both troubling and hopeful. His cynicism is mixed with a kind of amused gratitude for the thing that looks back at him, winking an eye.