Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The ache of possibility, Alan Buckley's The Long Haul

Alan Buckley’s new pamphlet, The Long Haul (HappenStance Press, 2016), sets out its stall from the title onwards.

The afore-mentioned title works on two levels. On the one hand, it’s the closing words to a delicious poem called “Stalactites”. On the other, it’s an implicit reference to Buckley’s poetic journey. Following a well-received pamphlet back in 2009, this is only his second publication. He represents the antithesis of a careerist bright young thing.

Hard-earned, slow-burning skill runs throughout The Long Haul. The pacing of lines is so measured and precise that the craft and ear involved go almost unnoticed. One specific example of Buckley’s deft pacing is his use of qualifiers, as in the following extract from “Loch Ness”:

“…Better, surely, to have
the doubt, the ache of possibility.”

Meanwhile, in another poem, titled “His Failure”, Buckley takes those qualifiers a step further into altered repetition:

“… I felt
Like a god. No – scrub the indefinite article –
like God. My hangover, though, was two days of hell…”

Only an extremely talented and experienced poet can pull off this device and make it necessary to the poem in hand. Moreover, Buckley qualifies his statements not to undermine them but to layer them and grant them depth.

Aesthetic texturing works hand in hand with pivotal thematic concerns. Buckley portrays the long-learnt absence of absolutes in language and life. The kid, the student, the young lover are all gone and are all still there in the older man. He dares to feel, again and again, as in “Flame”:

“…And lovers know too
how even a single
flame might raise
a scar that time can’t heal.

So come, stand next to me;
let’s flip this little box.
Strike softly away from the body.
See how it urges us.”

Of course, the key here is the sudden rush of “urges” after two weak syllables, cadence melded to meaning.

This is an unusual pamphlet by an unusual poet, one who quietly grafts and grafts away, before presenting us with sure-footed piece after sure-footed piece. A first full collection by Alan Buckley would be a book to behold. For the moment and for a fair old time to come, we’ll have to savour these nineteen chiselled poems. After all, he’s in it for The Long Haul.

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