Wayne Price’s Fossil Record (Smith-Doorstep, 2015) might be his first poetry pamphlet, but he’s far from being a novice in literary terms. Price has previously published a short story collection and a novel, and this experience shows in the coherence of his poetics.
One of the outstanding poems in the collection is “Loyalties”, as it encapsulates many of Price’s qualities and techniques. For example, it opens with a generic statement before clarifying, illustrating, yet also casting doubt and qualifying via the use of specifics.
Throughout the poem, there’s a dexterous managing of pronouns that brings about an interplay between “I”, “you” and “we” in syntactic and semantic terms, both aspects working in harmony, showing a deep understanding of the nuts and bolts of narrative. However, this doesn’t mean that Price is indulging in chopped-up prose: the music, the pacing, the cadences and the line breaks are all proof of his ear for verse, as in the poem’s closing stanza:
“…He didn’t have to come between us in the end.
when I left to rent a single room
I couldn’t take him. And you
were out at work all day:
He’d have chewed the house down.
Twenty-five years. Ah, God.
Wouldn’t we let him sleep in peace
anywhere he wanted now?”
As can be seen in this extract, Price offers the reader his piercing clarity with just a hint of mystery to respect our imagination.
Fossil Record, meanwhile, refers to a tension between human interaction and nature. The title poem, for instance, invokes the elements, manmade structures and cycles of human life all within its opening two lines:
“Wind was stammering at the windows all night.
If I slept at all it was a half-sleep…”
This poem steps back from the everyday to explore that afore-mentioned tension, while it’s juxtaposed on the page with another piece that homes in on such details: “Suburban Gardens at Night”…
“…are a country of their own,
belonging to no-one. Evening after evening
they repossess themselves at the moment
the kitchen light snaps on
and blinds us to everything
Via such meticulous ordering and layout, the poet establishes an implicit dialogue between the two pieces.
In Fossil Record, Wayne Price demonstrates a control of his narrative material and a gift for verse that mean it must surely be just a question of time before he brings out a full collection. I’ll be buying it, but for the moment this pamphlet provides us with an excellent introduction to his poetry.