NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
ALAN BAKER: THE CAUSEWAY
Leafe Press
4 Cohen Close
Chilwell
Nottingham
NG9 6RW
UK
ISBN 0 9535401 0 3
2.50 [$5]

ALAN BAKER: NOT BONDI BEACH
Leafe Press
ISBN 0 9535401 7 1
3.50

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ALAN BAKER: THE CAUSEWAY

This is Alan Baker's first published collection. Taken individually, each poem might be found in any good poetry magazine; serious, intelligent, well-crafted work. One might single it out from among less well formed works in such magazines. A poem like THE HERMIT for instance (first two stanzas):

	Living by berry and herb. 
	healing by poultice & leach 
	wanting the wisdom of the leeching years. 

	Seeking crags where eagles hatch, 
	or wild goats suckle their young.
	the moonlit pool where an otter's ripples 
	betoken what's uncertain, subatomic. 
	the crushing singularity of knowledge.
Confronted with these twenty four poems - all of which invite praise - a reader may feel less than enthusiastic. Why? Well, in this collection, at least, there is no humour. The most serious poetry, in the hands of certain writers, can contain (and often does) a smile or two - even if they're merely wry. There are, of course, many poets who appeal to the general reader who don't use humour as a craft tool - Ted Hughes being one of them (in his adult poems, at least). What then does Ted Hughes have that Baker does not? - and I speak only of what I find in this first collection. What comes to mind, immediately, is passion - a hands on feel - that pulsates. pushes a poem along to its end. Baker distances himself too much from his subject. This is a writing personality that shows itself to be too earnest, too considered. A collection. however short, needs, not only a variety of subject matter (or varied approaches to the same subject) but a lightness of touch able to highlight the metaphor and imagery. A writer has to let up now and again. For me he is more successful when he uses rhyme - this from THE LOST WEEKENDS:
	... I pick them up outside the superstore, 
	Like a spy-swap in the Cold War. 
	My former ally 
	Gives me a formal goodbye, 
	Two miniature defectors take my hand 
	And we descend in to a land 
	of pretend houses, animals that talk ...
(Last verse)
	I'm left with a story that seemed just right 
	When I read it to them at bed-time last night: 
	"The two children who dreamed of flight 
	Were turned into birds by the wave of a wand." 
	Flew over the frontier, out beyond ...
This act of rhyming has given the poem a lightness that, rather than diminishing the serious nature of the subject, deepens it, gives it immediacy - life! Baker has talent and intellect to give these qualities full rein he needs to dance and skylark.

reviewer: Michael Bangerter.
ALAN BAKER: NOT BONDI BEACH

The sequence, AND ONCE A TREE SPREAD ITS GREEN OVER WATERS... quotes fragments from the 1996 Housing Act around the poem

	Sunlight on a fountain
	  & pigeons scattering
	statistics & complex
	inter-related determinants
	  & you
	you could be anywhere
	bobbing among unnumbered heads
	in city squares
The sequence ends,
I know it's morbid, but I keep a tally in my head of all my friends who've died on the streets... No one in his family have heard from him since.... please call the Helpline.
which demonstrates Alan Baker's concerns: the inter-relatedness of people and the decline of jobs and related social structures. The title prose poem ends with the surfer watchers,
forgave them for not being seals, not welding ships, not trawling fish and not mining coal; forgave them because the shoreline of abandoned boarding houses and no shipyards wasn't their fault; forgave them because they were riding along on the crest of a wave, at Monkwearmouth Harbour, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, SR6, United Kingdom (E C Region 1056).
However, it's not all negative, THE NECESSITY OF ICE ends
	we need icebergs to see the tip of
	ice to pack against pain
	to cut with others
 
	to put our plans on     or to crush
	with lemon & vodka       & melt
	in warm young mouths
Slender, with only 15 pieces, but not slight.

reviewer: Emma Lee.