John Lucas reviews Dad’s slideshow

Posted by on Aug 10, 2015
John Lucas reviews Dad’s slideshow

Source: John Lucas reviews a mixed bag of recent poetry collections from both sides of the Atlantic (Londongrip)

Reviews of: Down Stranger Roads by Roger Craik, Dad’s Slideshow by Di Slaney, Millenium Blues by Evan Gwyn Williams

Extract (Dad’s slideshow):

There is far less stony ground in Di Slaney’s attractively produced debut cDad's slideshow coverollection. The back cover blurb remarks that These are questioning poems, interrogating the past: who came before, what were they like, who did they love, what is true? Of the twenty-four separate poems which make up what amounts to as near a sequence as makes no difference, half are in rhymed quatrains (or use the Shakespearian sonnet form of three quatrains followed by a couplet), pentameters never allowed to dominate, rhymes for the most part unforced and unemphatic. Much that’s best about the collection depends on its tonal variety: Slaney shifts from light to dark, from grave to comic, and is attentive to the voices of different speakers.

As with Craik, Slaney can recruit imaged landscape and memory to provide more than the merely visual. Hence, the resonances released in the opening poem ‘On The Forestry Commission Track,’ which begins Deep in the woods, and has an older woman looking at a little girl caught in a moment’s click of Dad’s patient lens, and wanting to

whisper in her ear, go back
and say that there will always be too few

moments, words will never paint another
picture like this. I want to tell
her to inhale the silence, smell
the dark scent of pine. 

The danger of this kind of looking, remembering, and wishing, is, of course, that it slides into nostalgia, that sickness of the soul which is too often mistaken as the deep source of poetry. Slaney allows for tears glistening at the corners, but CLICK and the scene changes, though this title-poem, a very-well managed pantoum which begins It’s nearly a year ago, makes a perfect vehicle for a forward momentum that carries trace memories with it:

and the pictures pile up around us


that we can only remember
they pull us in, bring us to this point
while the pictures pile up around us
and the tears keep us silently blinking

and bring us, pull us to one point
all of us just a white flash, thinking
while tears keep us silent, and blinking.
It’s nearly a year ago.

This is seriously good poetry.

Equally good is the way Slaney manages to evoke a family living its way through a recent history of outer events, dress styles, of rollneck turtles on display / on every holiday, head scarves, wool socks / tweed coats from the mill, the whiff of Bay Rum, and of the inner weather: those unbridgeable gaps between present and past, people, their loves, dislikes, forgotten certainties. Truly, though our element is time, Larkin famously wrote, We are not suited to the long perspectives / Open at each instant of our lives. They link us to our losses. Yes, yes, old misery guts, but the long perspectives also provide reasons to be grateful for what we had and have, as Slaney indicates in the charming ‘His Arms Round Her’, about a rare occasion on which she was able to snap her father when

he barked instructions
at me from across whichever bog
or quarry or mountain top 

they were on, and

for one second (or 1/160th  to be
precise) I caught his arms around her
with that tender, taut expression he 
never let me glimpse otherwise. 

I love the wit of that 1/160th, the comic bow to precision which undercuts sentiment and which at the same time tells you how the man on whom the lens is focussed takes exact care to ration out his emotional life, the moment’s surrender.

John Lucas, August 2015



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