Thursday, 8 December 2011

Review: The Hiding Place, by Tom Duddy

First things first, this book is terrific!

Let's start with some background info. The Hiding Place is Tom Duddy’s debut full collection. Published by Arlen House in Ireland, it was recently shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Poetry. This Prize is awarded annually to the writer of the best first collection published in the UK or Ireland in the preceding year.

Tom Duddy teaches Philosphy at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and his academic background is of immense interest in the context of The Hiding Place. Poets are often said to wear their erudition lightly, but Duddy goes far beyond that, exploiting it in idiosyncratic and immensely subtle ways, approaching life so as to understand it, metaphysics constantly filtered through the concrete, as in the following example from The Small Hours:

“A siren far out on the public road
breaks the circle of acid thought, and I turn
to find her pressed close, warm, palpable…”

The juxtaposition of “thought” and “palpable”, together with the play between them, is key to an understanding of Duddy’s poetics, as is the sense of public and private. Throughout this poem, as indeed throughout the whole collection, the poet is inviting us along with him.

The Hiding Place is shot through with a rare generosity towards the reader, capturing, transmitting and transmuting kernels that lie in Duddy’s mind. He casts new light on old scenes, thus enlightening us about our own lives. This is what I most treasure about poetry. It’s what lifts certain poets and poetry into a very special place.

The collection is also characterised by a delicate weighing of the effect of words. Their music is at first unassuming and then all the more powerful for this as their resonances build. I found myself rereading the poems over and over again. They were immediately accessible, but gave more and more with time in a cumulative effect. This extract from the title poem is an example of just what I mean:

“…Someone whose mind has been elsewhere
will have turned around and seen us
and stopped smiling and decided
that the time has come to wake us
to our fair share of the real...”

As can be seen above, Tom Duddy writes a poetry of the “mind” that’s rooted in the “real”. In no way limiting, this approach is in fact highly ambitious. What’s more, his achievements in this collection prove that the esoteric is not the only route to poetic depth. I can’t recommend The Hiding Place enough. Here’s hoping it finds an ever-increasing readership as the story of its exceptional qualities gradually comes out.

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