Imagination Feels Like Poison

(book reviewed by Roedd yn Ardderchog)

A Relief, then, to come to Martyn Bates’ collection, where even Daniel Crokaert’s introduction is poetry. And these are songs that have actually been sung, worked upon. Not having heard them, however, I can only go by what’s on the page; and here they are as if spoken from behind glass, where I know what is being said but I’m not sure of its relevance: voices in the other rooms/ creep to here/ curling under doors/ thru the paper thin walls/ over to where i stand/ all wet-eyed (CUT LIKE SUNSET). In these poems is a man at a distance from himself journeying towards himself. At times one thinks one’s found the measure of him only, on re-reading, to realise that he’s slipped by again: and i want you to pierce my eyes/ and tell me/ tell me i’m alive … (LITTLE DAYS). Elusive as mist these poems: they accentuate the near, then obscure it, surprises materialising out of the grey: to be still/ to be calm/ in the midst of alarm// and yet/ to not be a passive fool (GLOW OF SIGHT). On the down side the soulful photographs were a distraction I could have done without. My atheism was made uneasy too by a Christian undercurrent – vocabulary and emphasis mostly – whose assumptions had some poems slip over into sentimentality and had me resent the usual Christian assumption that all spirituality is exclusively theirs. That said a Christian sympathy isn’t necessary to be in sympathy with most of these poems, which own a universality made all the more powerful by their oblique approach: and just incredulous shot disbelief/ pure disbelief// and no-one speaks/ no-one// and nobody sees you/ crying (NO-ONE SPOKE). Oddly the progression I thought I divined in the earlier poems came to nought. Instead they are the more intense, with the later poems – and the more overtly Christian – almost sloppily executed. Because he’s given up on the search? and i’m not giving/ i’m not giving a thing away (IMAGINATION FEELS LIKE POISON). Make up your own minds.