Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Where And When by Malcolm Carson. Shoestring Press. £10.
Malcolm Carson’s fourth book of poetry is about the times and places in life, the where and when of moments, of things happening.
He may be on the fells at the head of the River Gelt, “Where the Gelt gathers here on the broken fell” where he comes across “the startled snipe and startling grouse”. It isn’t a place for the “dramatic view, tasteful panorama”. Instead there is something that is part of the place itself: “just the fellsides shifting colour as you watch”. “The Gelt is swelling, drawing // mists, storms, dew and even sweat through turf and bog / sieving age and aspiration as it sees fit.”
In a beautifully succinct poem he notes “How the robin sings / when the day is stripped of light / and trees of leaves.”
Or he may notice the “Ghost Bikes” left on the roadside near Moota. With wheels that have “lost their torsion, gurning / the frame distressed, // bereft of purpose.” Patched up they are “ghosting // a journey only partly made, / lives only partly lived.”
In “Wesr” he thinks of west Cumbria as “where the slag heaps meet / the sea, and cliffs crumble, / black against mesmeric / tides.” It may be on the “wrong side of Lakeland beauty” but “There’s something / to be said for being out / of sight, and simply getting on.”
And the “when” can come from moments in his own life. As he watches “her walk her dog” he thinks “how my father once used / our Tinker’s lead to thrash my legs” and he questions whether he should “put aside / that weal on memory”.
He also remembers “The Silent Sibling”. It is a quietly observed family tragedy, but all the more moving because of its restrained, precise observation. Her grave is across from their mother’s, “the graves greening among / the yews and composted flowers.”
In the concluding poem, “Edgar Revisits the Shore”, Malcolm, casts himself as Edgar, the seemingly mad Tom who watches over King Lear and observes the civil strife that tears the country apart. He recalls digging for bait on the shore, “castles made by worms // giving away their safety / to probing forks.” He is looking across a fading landscape and a life: “As light / seeps with the tide, // my shadow lengthens / across the sand, stretching // with the minute until / it will extinguish in the gloom. // Yes, I am glad I came / for only by gazing at // the darkest hour, can Edgar / be himself. Ripeness is all.”
The Where and When is a book of quietly reflective poems on the times and places of a life. The precision of the language and the reticence of the comment make for a poetry that is beautifully observed and deeply moving.