“Else” by Mark Goodwin (pub. Shearsman, 2008, ISBN: 978-1905700-97-4. £7.95)
I first encountered Mark Goodwin's poetry as editor of this e-zine (Litter), and I thought it was striking, individual work that didn't fit into any current category. Goodwin's upbringing on a farm and activities as a climber and walker colour the poetry, which presents an unsentimental picture of the natural world. Some of this work could be seen as contemporary pastoral, in the sense that it contains social comment in the context of a rural, or urban/rural setting (the rural backdrop here offset by urban blight). In 'Ways Through an Outskirts Estate' the choice of detail holds the reader's attention, while the poem makes a tangential comment on social conditions:
where eight-year-olds of uncertain
ages wander in strangely dangerous
The language is rugged with Anglo-Saxon diction and alliterative metre, and in keeping with that, some poems are like riddles, particularly the intriguing “Peter’s Selfless Portrait”:
My paper is hard dark. Deep
as Said, yet smells of voltage-white;
the tingle of fish slipping.
and we have these lines from the poem “Hoar Frost”:
to a new world, white and shatterable...
...a brilliance of crazed white pages; a collage
of crinkled manuscripts.
There's always a danger in this type of writing of overdoing it, and there are one or two places when Goodwin does this; but overall, this poem, like many others in this collection, shows a skillful handling of pace and sound judgment about how far he can push the phrasing.
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