Sunday 18 January 2015

The accumulation of detail, D.A. Prince's Common Ground

There’s no impatience in the poetry of D.A. Prince throughout Common Ground, her second full collection (HappenStance Press, 2014), no sudden foreshortening or abrupt change of gear, no shocking thrust toward the core of inspiration. And nor is it a poetry of the peeling of layers as focus is gradually revealed.

All very well, you might say. It’s easy to pinpoint how her verse doesn’t operate, but just how does it work? Well, D.A. Prince is a specialist in the almost-unnoticed accumulation of emotional impact. Her work builds imperceptibly, detail on detail, gathering momentum line after line. One such instance can be found in the final two stanzas of “P.O.W.”:

“…She waited
while he stripped the chicken carcass,
every sliver, not a scrap wasted,
leaving the bones polished,
scoured of meat, a gleam on the plate.

It was only over
with the last shred eliminated
and the silence reshaped around him.”

This poem homes in on a series of minor points so as to generate major impact.

Now I’ve read elsewhere that D.A. Prince’s poetry is lacking in humour. I’m afraid I couldn’t disagree more. It’s absolutely packed with the stuff. Not laugh-out-loud ribald jokes, not the funny-bone fireworks of early Armitage, but the slow-burning wry grin of keen observation. A personal favourite is the role reversal that’s portrayed in “Responsibilities”, as the offspring worry about their parents:

“…They confide in friends
over school lunches: where did they go wrong?
and will we ever learn? They whisper how
they have to check our bags, can’t trust us
with the car. What if we’re taken into care?
That they’re too young for this.”

Just as double-acts (i.e. the straight and funny man) work by creating uncertainty, so humour plays a crucial role throughout Common Ground by playing off D.A. Prince’s precise control of those afore-mentioned accumulated details. This is a poetry of unsuspected ramifications. Readers underestimate it at their peril!


  1. Matthew, was this written in response to anything? Thanks.

    1. Not in response to anything specific, Edward, but I do believe that D.A. Prince's verse is undervalued in general because of its subtlety and lack of fireworks.

  2. Dear Matthew

    Everybody's poetry is undervalued - including mine! There must be hundreds of good poets living and working in Britain at the moment but only about a dozen (no need to name them!) ever get any serious attention.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish