Poetry review: 04/02/20
DIALLING A STARLESS PAST
by Mike McNamara
Our reviewer looks for meaning in this collection covering six decades.
On reading Dialling A Starless Past, one understands that the poet has been through much more in a lifetime than the average person, such as being incarcerated, homeless, and a prisoner, to name a few experiences. When reading this collection I imagined someone on a cold night, I could feel the British winter, grit, intoxication. Locations are important in this collection, we’re moved throughout the UK, to Billingham, Halstead Street, Dolphin Street, Colchester and more. It’s a sort of alternative view of the UK, the exact Stranger Things upside down of the holiday maker’s version. The picture that the mood of this collection evokes is clear.
This is a collection in which someone looks over their past, and the writing is rather wordy. There is the recurrent image of the teenager, the young person within this collection, and despite describing great hardships, there’s also a lingering romantic view of this stage. One begins to understand why illicit substances were appealing in the first instance. The poems are mid to long in length and it’s not a collection that you’d consider modern now, it would have been ultra-modern about ten years ago.
Reading contemporary poetry, one is able to distinguish the poets that write as if they really needed to write poems, as if poetry were a lifeline, a plea, a prayer, a reason to exist, and this is such a collection. Here the act of recalling through poetry is important, detail is significant and forensic. The writing is dense and packed with description. It’s as if throwaway things are turned over and made sacred.
The end of the title poem of this collection is fantastic, in which McNamara writes:
‘Tonight, I would share my now starlit secrets with you
That shine beyond the bottled backstreets I once walked
But prison, grave and forty years divide us.’
My favourite poem in this collection, and the most accomplished is ‘Adfrift in the Asylum’, which feels as if it hits the ground running, and sustains great energy throughout. The mention of rhododendrons within this poem also reminded me of Sylvia Plath, the presence of the flower in her poems and the inevitable associations she has with mental illness.
Despite the occasional glimpse of romance, the overall feeling of this collection is of being inconsolably lost. The poems ‘Mercy’ and ‘On The Brow Of The George Street Bridge’ convey this feeling the most, and strangely they don’t seem ‘poetic’. They seem so real and so hopeless that they aren’t able to be poetic, and are effective because of this.
From William Blake to the Beatles, Marx and Malcom X, the poets’ influences stare back from these pages, are ticked off like names in a register. Once senses their importance to the speaker of the poems. This was a sombre, ironically sobering collection, that makes the reader wonder what happens to the narrative and speaker presented after there are no more pages to be read.
Review: Setareh Franklin.
Mike McNamara – Dialling a Starless Past