Poetry Review: 20:09:19
by David Van-Cauter
Our reviewer finds these poems a perfect dance partner.
There is a sense when beginning this collection of being in safe hands, very important when you are told on the back and in the dedication that it is a book about the untimely death of the poet’s wife. I liked it from the start. This is a poet who excels at clear-eyed observation, with a sound grasp of form and structure. He also exhibits a considerable degree of self-control over his emotions, which makes them all the clearer and more accessible. Unlike many younger poets today, Dan Van-Cauter does not wear his emotions on his sleeve. His heart is clear to see, but he doesn’t make a parade of it. His poems go deeper than that, and reward re-reading. His use of language is spare and simple, his imagery is of the everyday. Even when a poem might be set in an exotic location, it feels like somewhere you might have been. He doesn’t go in for erudite vocabulary or poetic forms. Which is of course not what the heart wants. He writes about the deepest feeling straightforwardly, from his heart to your heart, choosing each image carefully to illuminate an aspect of loss, and the book is all the more moving for that. These are poems which encapsulate the everyday intimacies, irritations and enjoyments of a real marriage, and the everyday aspects of loss. There are heart-stoppingly poignant images: in ‘Mirror Lake’, “At every turn, I think I see you up ahead”; in ‘Nothing we can do’, “The change is microscopic”; in “Lost World”, a wonderfully empathic understanding of what it means to be the one with the diagnosis: ‘staring into oblivion/your lost world’.
There are lovely poems here about marriage, starting with the first one, ‘Piano’, with its double meaning of the instrument and quiet – a gentle memory of a way of creating, and its impact on the listener. ‘Counting House’ too is another quite gentle poem about that perennial favourite, marital arguments about money. ‘Mousse-Mjodd-Meow examines another interesting aspect of marriage, the way a private language grows up between partners from their shared experiences – “We talk in code”. He doesn’t mention it, but we imagine how devastating the loss of this language must be to him. ‘Living Room’ is a particularly poignant evocation of the time when “This is your space now/sofas shifted to accommodate a hospital bed”. ‘Mirror Lake’, the central poem in the collection, is a moving meditation on time, the eternal and the day-by-day, with its suggestion of love living on in the face of death.
The weight of these poems, the dance of them, is spot on, each foot ending in just the right place and time.
The last two poems – reviews – are a new departure in tone and subject matter. Their wryness is enjoyable, and makes a good ending to the book, a coming towards hope and life. We know there have been sleepless nights, wanderings like a knotless thread, hours of jerking tears, baleful reminiscences, heart-scourings, but these all remain private, only peeking through the veil of reasoned description, enough to raise our sympathy, not our embarrassment. Dan Van-Cauter is a writer who is very considerate of his audience. I would highly recommend this collection.
Review: Rosemary McLeish.
David Van-Cauter – Mirror Lake