An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Leafe Press
4 Cohen Close
ISBN 0 9537634 3 9
2.50 [$5]

4b Tremayne Close
UK ISBN 1 900152 76 2
7.95 [$14]

ISBN 1 900152 97 5

Shearsman Books 58 Velwell Road
ISBN 0 907562 45 5
8.95 [$14]

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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

I spent an hour chasing meaning around this short pamphlet of Peter Dent's subtle but emotionally charged poetry. I didn't find it but I had a great time trying. In HANDING OVER he writes of

     Seeing all that cannot be reduced
     To order
And these lines could function as a comment on the whole book. Dent's poems resist reduction; for me at least they resist interpretation too unless, of course, interpretation means to acknowledge that in poetry of this kind 'Darkness' is always the ultimate insight. Their obscurity in no way detracts from their power of course. His poems remain, to use his words from the title piece,
     Another tale we can't interrogate
But we can enjoy that tale nevertheless; we can savour
     the implied
     Presence of something
And though I can't hope to fathom the nature of that 'something' I'll happily go on chasing it around Dent's wonderfully elusive lines.

reviewer: Paul McDonald.

There are eighty-odd poems split into three sections. The first section

deals with the vagaries of the creation process as the artist encounters them
and contains poems in preparation, or rather poems that detail the thought-processes entailed in literary creation, together with its stops and starts and fumbling indecisions. An example is from NAVIGATING:
       Imagine then    this making for a poem
       Intervals events white water    churning at
       The ship of state    'made ready'    forging
       Steel plate wisdom    keeping nothing back
       No words except know perfectly the way
       Each side the prow they have to fall
Dent occasionally uses the weather as a background or as an adjunct to the mood of a poem or verse, as shown in the following examples from three poems:
                             look    how it rains
       A day when skies are dangerous
                    and cold as a morning gets
He has at times a dual obsession with words and weather, as in EXTENSION:
       A morning in August    early
       The book says    trembling    a hint
       Of mist here    a softness    taking
       The colours out of words
The second section of poems
acknowledges the nagging stimulus of nature
The emphasis again is on the processes of word-play, an incessant exploration of images and associations in the poet's attempted verbalizing of nature. In FOUR INVESTIGATIONS (WITH BIRDS) he writes that
       Two buzzards whirl across parentheses
and WINTER ARRIVALS: RESOURCES interprets visual image in terms of linguistic analogy:
       The watching over    and the eye
       Returns it    there is this
       A glitter on the water    or is it
       A glitter there and water    lexicon
       And variation 
The poet deals with different seasons, the seasonal coming or going of various birds, and changes in vegetation, and with the mechanics of any linguistic rendering of what is observed. It is the weather and nature that are the catalysts for his stuttering analysis of verbal inter-play. FIRST THING has a few examples of this obsessive inter-play between surroundings and the mechanics of writing:
       The river of shadows
       Childhood    where I
       Wouldn't be    without
       These sequences as long
       As words are    healing
       Held to    and driven
       Over line-breaks to
       Begin    again the boat
       Moves off
Scenes outside become like a canvas upon which Peter Dent does not just scribble but rather investigates the nature of that scribbling, such that his reaction to external stimuli becomes jumbled up with the stumbles and cul-de-sacs of the mechanics of language. The third section of poems
navigates 'the ordinary', its urgencies and ennui.
His preoccupation, as always, is with the slippery attempt to encapsulate a scene or event, as in FROM MONOCHROME:
		 no matter his mind grows
       Dark with thinking    worlds    and categories
       Where things go    who cannot bear to end
       The counting    weighing up of chances    all
       So brilliant in their distribution    daystars
       He will pick    somehow convert    for use
       In miracles of colour    a haul of truth
The shakiness of artistic endeavour, the strain and inevitable failure in trying to hold still any representation of a particular moment, becomes synonymous with the fleetingness of life itself and the passing of the present into a future that is as equally vague and tenuous. LAST GRAVITY deals with some of this:
       Into a future like canvas
       Shaking the tenses rework
       The invisible    the carried
       Faint words of a whisper
       For who will observe it
       This moment    now leaving
       Is stretched to the limit
       The deal should we say and
       We've said it before    of a
       Lifetime    anchor to chance
Time and language become something beyond any control, beyond any fixity or understanding, as in MATERIAL TIME:
       Knap or knop    some loop    whatever
       In the weave    these places these people
       With their fly-blown ancient capitals
       And correctly dressed italics    slowing
       Every time against the eye    unsteady
       Eddies in the stream I can't control
In two quotations from the final poem, PRIMARY EDUCATION, this theme of the artist/poet trying to halt time in his/her forlorn endeavour to express an external reality is shown in fact to be life itself:
       Look Mummy he said the artist the 4-year old
       You can't stop time    a pause and    can you?
       Just self-forgetting lines    a dream that gets
       Inside the text    what is it I'm not    this life
Peter Dent himself sums up the concerns of this brave and worthy collection:
Overlapping all is a detailed realisation of the slipperiness of perception and how chancy the words that conjure it.

reviewer: Alan Hardy.

Peter Dent's ADVERSARIA is a collection of poems which were written over a three-month period and read like the charting of an individual's consciousness. He manages the balance between the specific and abstraction skillfully as in MOCK HEROIC:

	Up   with time to spare not insignificant
	If you say it fast   just hear things ripple

	In from the casement   like a new day
	Down on the corner   and excuse the dust

	I must keep meaning ...   to a minimum
	Life's what it says today will make you
Note, also, the allusion to Coleridge's THE EOLIAN HARP with the rippling in from the casement being heard as, similarly, the wind in Coleridge's poem ripples the strings of the lute to cause them to vibrate and produce sound.

We also see reference to older poetic styles with Dent's use of capitalisation at the beginning of lines, despite frequent use of enjambment. Inversion is also present in DOING NOTHING:

	Now forward now into reverse with such
	A song to sing   it listens knows I never
Here the inversion is heralded by the phrase 'now into reverse' which in turn spells out one of the themes of the poem which is "flux" as is hinted at in the poem's various words and phrases: 'remix', 'fix nothing', '(repeat)', 'All change', 'removed' and 'never in one place'.

There is also frequent use of ellipses both in the poetry's formal aspect and semantically. The formal aspects are plain to see in the already quoted samples above: with their noticeable gaps between words. Where Dent really comes into his own is with the semantic use of ellipses in combination with enjambment. For instance, take the following stanzas from CONTAINMENT UNALLOYED?

	Five Ladies putting another time to shame
	Yet waiting   someone there must be here

	To report   on quieter tones the excited air
	In a field that riddles   order with escape
When we examine the lines
	Yet waiting   someone there must be here
	To report   on quieter tones the excited air
we are led to believe that they form one single sentence subject to enjambment at the junction between 'here' and 'To report'. This is so in the formal configuration of the stanzas and the obvious semantic use of the line's content. But on closer examination we see that the lines also functions elliptically the ellipses occurring, again, at the junction between 'here' and 'To report'. This, then, not only alters the meaning of the sentence but splits it into two separate sentences. This use of ellipses and enjambment to cause ambiguity is used throughout this collection.

Dent's debt to High Modernism is also evident in his use of modernistic flourishes such as in COLLABORATION:

	Well who can say how a work goes   in
	Its wildest definitions of trust how easily
	All change   makes easier the explanation
	Don't I register the past?
Dent, also, is not one to shy away from the oblique. Lines such as
	The precise locations lay in wait and home

	Seeds of a plain experience   whether to
	The shadowy steps down which an answer
The use of the oblique is so rare in much of British and Irish poetry that it is heartening to see it represented in this collection. All in all this collection is well worth a read.

reviewer: Jeffrey Side.

HANDMADE EQUATIONS is Peter Dent's sixth collection of poetry and contains over eighty poems written since the beginning of the new millennium. It is beautifully produced with a cover illustration by the author. I love poetry with depth that reveals more layers of meaning as one reads. Dent's poetry certainly fits that bill, with each line subtly altering the focus of the line before, extracting as much meaning as possible from the words. It is a kaleidoscopic poetry, as he says himself in the poem AFFIDAVIT:

				here every twist and turn adds
	Graver dazzle    beauty will ache to manifest
This is poetry to make the reader sit in stillness and concentrate. Poetry that runs against the grain of our contemporary society so often obsessed with speed and easy answers. Poetry that for these very reasons perhaps risks seeming obscure to those not prepared to put the work in. For those who are prepared to put the work in the rewards are great and at its best Dent's poetry offers a dreamy lyricism laden with meaning as in RESTORATION BY DEGREE:
	    A reasonable assumption    flawless execution
	surely...    the wind's attracted to its height
	a colossus    a one day gleaming    shaking out
	what's loose    no book of hours yet found to 
	comment on her trial    faith's less than eager
	and master masons know it    putting it to the 
	test    love's lost perspective
He also offers us beautiful, thought provoking phrases such as, from PROSPECTING MIRRORS:
	                                        life's the better 
	half of dream    what shock is there like waking?
	breaking    the same and different world in two
	            clairvoyance is proving the last re-
	liable witness
However his consistent use of almost exactly the same odd syntax and form becomes wearing, the reader can start to wish for a bit more variety in form. Also, much though the poems repay the hard work needed, by the end of the book I was starting to wish for poetry that yields its treasures a little more easily.

reviewer: Juliet Wilson.