Saturday, 10 July 2010

Review: Waiting for the Sky to Fall, by Dan Wyke

You might recall my review last year of Dan Wyke’s excellent pamphlet, Scattering Ashes (2004). Well, Wyke finally has a full collection out from Waterloo Press, titled Waiting for the Sky to Fall, and it doesn’t disappoint.

All of his assets from the chapbook remain, while many of the most outstanding poems (see that afore-mentioned pamphlet review) are also carried over. However, these qualities are now even further concentrated, distilled and expanded.

Wyke has fully harnessed his gorgeous lyrical gifts - there are no fireworks for their own sake in Waiting for the Sky to Fall – as the poet approaches life so as to understand it rather than filtering it through some esoteric code. Whether dealing with Gazza, a dirty weekend or potatoes, accessibility is married to an ambitiously humanistic vision.

What’s more, Wyke’s risk-taking individuality enables him to stand out in the present-day morass of Creative Writing courses and renowned mentors. One key example of this is his treatment of abstract nouns. While most of his contemporaries run scared of their ramifications, Wyke grabs them, relishes their latent potential and wreaks according havoc with our expectations, as in this example from the collection’s title poem:

When the phone rings with the news, it is raining
or not; the heart stops,

the heart goes on; the same language
is no longer enough, though words come,

performing acrobatics on the tongue…

“Heart” is a pivotal word here, its repetition highlighting an inherent duality of meaning: physical and abstract. Interplay and tension are thus developed between the two, enabling us to reassess our own interpretations.

Furthermore, the above point is reinforced by the remark on the nature of language that follows. Rooted in the specifics of this situation, Wyke’s statement that “the same language/is no longer enough” broadens his perspective while also implicitly homing back in on that word again, “heart”.

In fact, I’d actually go as far as to highlight this extract as something approaching a statement of poetic progression. Specific experiences have led to Wyke’s recognition that he has to reach beyond lyricism. Those “acrobatics” are no longer enough: events have their consequences in verse, where they also earn transforming qualities.

There’s an enormous variety of tone, subject matter and versification in this book, yet it’s held together by a glue that many first collections lack - no matter which poem we choose to read, it could only have been written by Dan Wyke. In the current context of U.K. poetry, that’s a huge achievement.

In a just world, Waiting for the Sky to Fall would make all this year’s shortlists and carry off a gong or two from under major publishers’ noses. For the moment, I hope my review contributes in some small way to its finding the wide readership it deserves. This is the rare class of collection that can create an addiction to contemporary verse.

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