Waterloo Press

Ken Head reviews Waiting for the Sky to Fall by Dan Wyke 
From Ink Sweat & Tears blogsite 07/09/2010: 
http://ink-sweat-and-tears.blogharbor.com (scroll 3/4 down the page)

Although widely published and the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award, this is Dan Wyke’s first full-length collection and brings together seventy-two poems covering the period 1992 – 2008. It’s an intriguing selection, not least because it includes Rescued, a poem which expresses Wyke’s weariness with the labour of writing poetry, of finding the poem that’s special, important, not already written:

Tonight, at last, I’m ready to admit
I’ve no more poems, it’s time to quit.
Too often I think about my age,
and what I’ve forfeited for an empty page.

     .     .     .

I tear out the page, drop it in the bin:
now, perhaps, life can begin.

All of us who write poetry understand this state of mind, although we might not be honest or brave enough to admit it in our first collection. In Wyke’s case, by contrast, this forthrightness runs throughout. His view of his subjects is direct, even, at times, cold-eyed. In the opening poem, Polaroids, for example, the austerity of nineteen-fifties England is trenchantly expressed through imagery of stains, fallout, pollution, the pallid halo / around the face of a freshly dead person, while in Neighbours, householders are seen as victims of trauma living in a trance, a slow dance / of wheeling the bin / to the end of the drive ... and when the birdsong stops, / locking their back doors. Harsh? Perhaps. Elsewhere though, writing in a similarly sombre tone about death and loss – the collection contains a number of such poems – the effect is very different. In Last Visit, for example, Dust, Naked, Potatoes, Scattering Ashes and (below) The Last Man:

My father is uncomfortable with me sitting
so close to him on the sofa.
He makes a noise with his mouth
as though trying to detect a taste;
breathes out heavily through his nose;
crosses and uncrosses restless feet.
The film on the box is Scott of the Antarctic.
We know already how it ends.
You stupid old sod, I want to say,
thinking ahead to our final scene
when lying in a hospital bed, breathing faintly,
he complains that he is feeling cold
and there is only this flame of affection
in the pit of my stomach to warm him.

The narrative thread running through this collection takes in Wyke’s meditations on what his life has been and what he is trying to become, on childhood and school, family life, bereavement, loss, leaving home, the journey towards and into adulthood. Even time spent in Italy isn’t spared ... I want to be a playwright. / I haven’t written any poems yet. / I don’t think I have anything to write about ... There are no words for how I feel. / ... And I still keep trying to find them. (Verona) ... the unswerving eye records what it sees: A swordfish on the quayside, / severed head stood jaw-up; (Benvenuto à Bari); pale pink / toilet paper / shit-smeared / rich / and noxious (Italian Pastoral); Patches of plaster, / fallen away like scabs, / reveal older pictures / behind them: / a leg nailed to a cross ... (San Zeno, Verona).

Waiting for the Sky to Fall is serious work. Neither merely entertaining nor clever, it records a poet dealing with his life, working to experience it more fully, discover the direction in which he should travel:

Easter in Umbria. Divine light. Old masters’ landscape.
It has taken me almost twenty years to write this line –
all that time working up a lyrical sweat, ... / instead of speaking for myself, letting things be. 
(Letting Things Be)

.....Reviewed by Ken Head ©2010

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