An independent small press poetry review

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Coracle Books
13 Red House Yard
Thornham Magna
IP23 8HH
ISBN 0 906280 40 0
6.95 + 1.50 p&p [USA $10 + $2 p&p]

Coracle Books
> ISBN 0 906280 33 8
6.95 + 1.50 p&p [USA $10 + $2 p&p]

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THE MOON AT MIDNIGHT contains 44 poems in its two sections as well as eight prefaces in the form of literary exchanges between an un-named professor of fine art and the writer R from July and September 2005. We are given no biographical information about Mr Sullivan, other than a listing of four previous publications, three in verse, and one prose work.

The prefaces seem to set out his literary pretensions in a reasonably erudite and entertaining way, but should a poet have to go to such lengths to set up his stall?

There are some good attempts at verse to be found in THE MOON AT MIDNIGHT though after a while the fact that most of the poems have an old fashioned and annoying rhyming construction begins to lessen their impact.

The McGonagall-esque rhymes of

	A steam train stopped
	In the silence of a summer's day
	And the loco smoke began to drift
	Across the meadow and the hay
	And the war was very far away
	For love was not to come to me
	Until the turning of the century.
		Our Marriage Bed
	Remember the time we were alone
	In an inn of honey-coloured stone
	And all day long we were together
	In that misty early Autumn weather
	It was our unwed honeymoon
	And it was over far too soon
	And I do believe that we are wed
	For in that room was our marriage bed.
A longer poem, SAD CITY, in six sections, has some pretensions to be a love ballad, as indeed have many of the angst ridden poems in this collection, like CHRISTMAS 2004

NEW YEAR'S EVE 2004 has some evocative lines:

	And the year is moving on it's hinge
	And soon will swing into the past
	The waiter asks me how I am?
	I lie and say that I am well
	What have we done to reap
	Such loneliness as this?
		... the poets always sing
	Of the pain that love alone can bring.
The whole collection is steeped in the self pity of lost love, right down to the last poem in the book, REMEMBERING, which opens with
	I am alone and taking tea
	In a kind of mock gentility
	But remembering our own lost time:
and ends
	And all our loving ran to waste
	To be replaced by loneliness.
So many of the ideas in the poems are worthy of further exploration but the McGonagall connection is too deeply entrenched in the poems, as they stand, to make this worthy of collection.

reviewer: John Cartmel-Crossley.

The collection MELANIE is divided into four Prefaces followed by two sections of poetry, Parts One and Two.

One of the great pleasures to be gained by Sullivan's poetry is the awareness that every poem, both singly and when placed together as a body of work, demonstrates a belief in the possibilities language has to truthfully and energetically communicate experience, thought and feeling. Sullivan does not distract the reader with inquiries into problems of subjectivity and textuality, and although the poems in this collection are innovative and exploratory, Sullivan speaks of life with clarity and wisdom. In this way his work appeals to a sense of shared experience and common history, and seeks to render contemporary the mythological function of poetry as a vehicle for insight; as a conduit between the individual and the common picture.

MELANIE is, therefore, an intriguing work, largely disconnected from the material and social emergencies we live with day to day. The Prefaces perform a gesture typical of such poetics. Echoing the scope of the book, they are written as letters to Melanie from R in which R expresses his love:

Only thought can be shown to exist and when thought is stilled, love flows in. (Preface 1).
In these letters R declares that,
Poetry is spiritual. Through it we briefly meet God, of whom we are in any case made." (Preface II).
In the third Preface R explicates his previous volumes of poetry, the poet's physical and imaginative memories generating both the material cosmos and a space the poet can help make the cosmos inhabit:
This leads him to realise there is a deeper truth than he has so far uncovered, that he's only ever been half right, if never wholly wrong." (Preface III).
In Preface IV Monologue, R says,
Inside is where it all happens. When thought is still, you leave time and enter here. It is a counter-cosmos entered through the mind, but more real than the diurnal planet of sea and stone.
This, then, is the true essence of the poetry in this collection.

Part One explores the theme that correspondence between lived experience and constellations of memory, concept and language can stimulate the revelation of thought and love. Sullivan's frequent references to love in this first section, suggests a broad sensitivity to the material limits of the way in which relationships grow. For instance, in the poem LOVE IN AGE IV, the woman says,

	You see the splinters in my soul,
	You see the shards that lacerate
	And the brokenness bequeathed by fate.
	Are you here to heal me and to mend?
and he replies
	I need to heal the hurt in you
	or I too am wounded unto death.
	For you are my destination, and my end.
Sullivan's work is made more interesting by its constant focus on sensual experience; the persona's delight as he says,
	so gently stroke my hand
its pleasurable outcome
	I'm in the arms of Love
and also the remark,
	When the wound in me begins to heal
	Then I no longer shall conceal
	The love I feel for you
mark the combined processes of sensation and memory as the primary ground from which all other knowledge proceeds. For instance, in poems such as SKIRT, CHILTERN, LONG AGO and TODAY we are shown the persona working to overcome the anxiety of not knowing what the future will bring and she is only partially pacified by the reply, as in the poem CHILTERN where we have her delight in the perfect day counterpoised by the man's reply to her question of what the future might hold for them:
	What a perfect and a simple day:
	Tea and scones and you and I alone
	Above an unseen river in a hollow
	In green and timbered hills.

	Tell me what the future now will bring?
	When the nettle's dead it still can sting.

 	I am your quietness,
	the place where you belong.
	We are love, and love can do no wrong.
This conversational flow between the couple in the flux and growth of their relationship as it suffers from the strain of parting and they can no longer be merely friends after all they have been to each other, is shown in the poem AWAY VIII:
	And it's through the love between us two
	That we both know that it is true.
	We meet God when we make love.
	So. No, we can't again be merely friends.
Later, he writes of the gift of art in the poems from GIFT I through to GIFT V:
	'Then straightway I knew
	There is the gift of art in you'
Here the persona articulates a double process whereby the universe is felt and understood and is taken into the poems, to the extent that the persona describes the vision he has of the woman's gifts and says that she must give back to God that which she has received from Him:
	Then you must repay the Giver
	by giving back the gift to all.
Of course, the poet is not unaware that the couple if getting older and that one day all their hopes and dreams will fade away, as he tells us in the poem OCTOBER ON THE HILL:
		October's ruin is on the hill
	And November's ruin marks us too
	In smaller and in bigger ways
	With the dying of our shorter days
	And the dying of the long decades.
Sullivan's poems, particularly in the collection's second part often ironically invent the push towards total knowledge and experience. Sullivan reminds us that all forms of knowledge, both the scientific and the poetic, require some form of measurement, that against the possibility of
	Love is the creator and what is made
that all other forms of knowledge are
	Mere wavelets on a deep blue sea.
MELANIE is deepened in effect by the humility of such lines, and the fact that many poems in the collection trace the impact of personal history, the many and varied moments of love, pain, ageing and joy, on the poet's understanding of what it is to be. For example, in the fine poem MAKER AND THE MADE, Sullivan maps out an intricate constellation of resonances gendered by his thoughts of what is known, and a pattern emerges of observations that work together both to collapse and to extend what is known and what is not, across the space of the poet's intuition.
	There is no knower,
	Only what is known;
	Thought without a thinker
	(Thought there is alone)
	But thought when stilled is love.
In this collection Sullivan shows us that alongside discourse, art and a desire to know, feeling too is a form of knowledge. The final poem in the collection, THE ODYSSEY IN BRIEF, returns us to the conceptual and emotional momentum of the book's beginning, in which the breach between the world and language, can be managed by a grounded attunment to and relaxation with the flux of emotions, events and perspective:
	Why leave a morning world
	For a world of mourning;
	Immortal life for war
	And mortal wife and dung
	And dying dogs on a rock
	Too short for horses?

 	Because human love is all there is:
	It is all our truth and all our bliss:
	And we can know no more than this.
MELANIE is one of those extraordinary books that can seem to sum up the grief and joy and hopes of people through the images in the eyes of the individuals into which the poet gazes. The technique is analogous to that of a great documentary filmmaker, but it is more intimate and allows an absolute control of the trajectory by which these strange and terrible epiphanies of catharsis are achieved.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.