Monday, 8 October 2012

Review: Spring Journal, by Dan Wyke

At first sight, Dan Wyke's pamphlet, Spring Journal (Rack Press, 2012), seems a seismic shift away from his previous writing, as in Waiting for the Sky to Fall, his first full collection from Waterloo Press. Instead of individual, bite-sized poems, we encounter a coherent long piece that knits the whole chapbook together. However, a closer look demonstrates that Wyke is not breaking from his previous work in Spring Journal. Instead, he is using its epigrammic qualities to bring together a series of shorter snippets, snapshots and extracts to create a cumulative collage effect that is sustained successfully throughout the pamphlet.

Wyke's use of titbit followed by titbit is married to the form of the "journal" of the title. It also enables him to draw implicit comparisons and contrasts via juxtaposition. In other words, misery is found alongside pleasure. "Today, I will get nothing done" is followed by "This, too, I love." Wyke thus achieves a mirroring of changes of mood from day to day and even within days.

He has always been highly skilled at picking out details to convey the significance of the everyday. Spring Journal is no different, as in the following example:

"End of May Day, back door and windows wide open...
I can smell the blossom on the lilac bush,
mint in a terracotta pot, barbecue smoke:
the moment and memory collide in the taste of cold beer
and the scent of after-sun on my hot face."

The humdrum is lifted beyond the mere detail of its listing. Senses lead to thought.

The coherent and cohesive nature of Spring Journal allows Wyke to explore in depth themes that have popped up elsewhere in his poetry. For example, there's the attempt at a Buddist reconciliation with self, as in...

" I am trying to sit closer to myself."

All this is tied in with moments in which he's "trying" but doesn't quite make it (a key facet of human experience, captured wonderfully by Wyke), falling to his own frustrations:

"What I am unable to say
                                       I mean most of all."

Key themes in this book are key themes in life: joy and misery, and the inevitably impossible attempt to express them, as in the final stanza of Spring Journal, where Wyke captures that tension so well:

"Monday morning: viral, unresponsive; my life is passing.
The sky is blue, unfathomably beautiful. A toddler in a pushchair
titlts back his head and lets out long,loud vowel sounds.
His mother does not understand and tries to stop him.

This is excellent stuff, especially in the context of what comes before. Spring Journal is a satisfying read in any season.

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