Review published on April 21, 2016.
In this new collection of 35 poems by Ian Duhig, we are told that many are inspired by Stern’s Tristram Shandy or Blind Jack Metcalf, but there is so much more than this. Duhig is Leeds centred and several poems refer to “Ashtrayville” – an England whose history, politics and culture are remote and irrelevant to many. This compendium is both a recognition and challenge to, or negation of this. Showing Duhig’s home city, melding both its grim urban present with its surviving past – both tangible and of memory.
To me reviewing poetry is contradictory. The poet writes words, brilliantly evoking places, thoughts and feelings, I, a reader, then have to find more words to describe the words of the “expert writer”; and do it to a deadline, rather than quietly pondering over hours and days. Nevertheless, what did I see as I read? What will you find in this slim, but percipient volume?
The place – a gritty urban landscape of poverty and restriction; but always with an awareness of its history a detailed backdrop. A sympathetic portrayal of the people who live and have lived here and their responses to their environment, commemorating those he doesn’t feel should be forgotten. And first and foremost, the ever challenging mind – a flowering of thought triggered by another poem, song, person or political happening, refusing to be restricted by the present or living in a limited place.
There is too an amazing range of poems, a deep sense of political and social justice, philosophy and literature, wry humour, and word pictures and an underlying exploration of what poetry can be. Some poems simply delight in assonance; others create an explosion of vision – albeit not everybody would equate souls with maggots! All challenge the reader in different ways.
This may not be to the taste of all reading groups, but those that explore poetry should find this diverse collection a thought provoking journey.
The Blind Road-Maker by Ian Duhig
Picador 9781509809813 pbk Feb 2016
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