Where I can, I like to share reviews that I think capture a collection, this is one from David Cooke on Love Poems 1979 – 2009 Ian Parks, Flux Gallery Press, Leeds, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-9560688-2-8. £7.95
Ian Parks’ Love Poems is a substantial gathering of more than seventy pieces, many of which have appeared in earlier collections. It also contains previously uncollected poems and more recent work which appears here for the first time. The volume brings together all the love poems that the poet wishes to keep in print so that in some ways it has the feel of a ‘collected’ edition. However, it is actually a ‘selected poems’ because it omits much fine work on unrelated themes. In fact, in his interesting Preface to the new book Parks explains how he never really set out to be a ‘love poet’ at all and that over the years these poems simply accumulated, seeming ‘almost an afterthought’, whilst he was working on things which at the time seemed ‘more important.’ They are poems, then, that were written because they needed to be and this sense of being taken by surprise is not dissimilar to the way in which they work upon the reader.
Typically, the poems consist of brief narratives where the reader’s attention is first attracted by the understated evocation of some landscape: ‘Think back: remember the lighthouse / poised on the windswept head’; or an interior as here in ‘The Gallery’:
A wedge-shaped room with windows to the street
and branches agitating the cold pane.
That’s where I met you, where I let you go…
The reader is then drawn in by details which build up in a way that is cinematic: ‘Each object / bore your imprint and your name…introspective photographs / that lined the whitewashed walls; / dead leaves in the doorway…candles, pillows, sheets askew…’ until in this poem we reach the marvellous closing lines: ‘Last night I entered cautiously…Someone had thrown a stone and smashed the glass, / let in the winter and the world.’ In another poem ‘The Mirrored Room’ two lovers are haunted by the ghosts of WW2 fighter pilots who ‘etched their names / and the names of their new lovers / with penknives in the bright / reflective glass.’ Many of these pilots of course had simply passed through the room before dying ‘above the Channel / France or Germany…’ The two worlds evoked are then brought together in a breathtaking final stanza that is deeply felt and eloquent:
I don’t know what it meant to you
but what it meant for me
was sudden recognition:
of how love looks
has stripped it cold and bare
and how those random pairings
made tenable by war
were overlaid across your searching eyes,
rewritten in your raised, enquiring face.
Not long ago the Irish poet, Michael Longley, took to task poets who have little respect for basic technique and no ear for cadence, whilst recently in Poetry Review Don Paterson lamented the too-pervasive influence of the ‘show me, don’t tell me’ orthodoxy. Both men would, I suspect, find much to admire in the work of Ian Parks who, whilst he understands the importance of imagery in a poem, knows also that plain speech and statement have their part to play when they are heightened by cadence and that innate feeling for the musicality of language that is part and parcel of it. In a brief review it is difficult to do justice to work of such substance and quality. However, mention must be made of ‘A Last Love Poem’, the superb lyric which brings the collection to a close:
I was thinking how the daylight disappears,
how one thing blends into another thing
as over river, rooftops, silent park
time slips away without our noticing:
the wave collapses and a cold wind veers
through all the public places where we loved.
That’s what it feels like these years on:
you were quite unexpected, and it seems
I’ve used up all the images I know –
midnight stations, coastal roads,
red wine, high windows, lace and sudden snow.
Don’t be surprised if language fails me now.
I turn to the sunlight. Let it go.
This is a poetry which is universal, profound, and as natural as breathing. Love Poems is one of the best collections of poetry I have read in a long time. It is to be hoped that it will gain for Parks the wider audience that his work deserves.