Short Breaths

Andrew Taylor – Silo (Red Ceilings Press, 2021)

Paul Chambers – The Dry Bones (Red Ceilings Press, 2021)

Poems are moments. The moment, today, is the duration of a gasp.

Young people understand this implicitly. Their culture of YouTube reactions and TikToks consist almost entirely of shocked, breathless faces. Wild, cartoonishly wide eyes that promise a hit of pure moment.

But these moments are not authentic.

The presence of the face, no matter how contorted, rewards narcissism. Narcissism is self-enclosed. We are not seeing an authentic reaction, then, but the face of a young person looking in a mirror, studying themselves, while a series of images play simultaneously. The meaning of the images are subsidiary to that of the face.

Poetry too suffers from narcissism. And yet, at its best, it can transcend personality altogether.

The gasp without the face. This is the ideal. Or one ideal at least.

Two new pamphlets from Red Ceilings offer us just this. The first, Silo, by Andrew Taylor, offers short, imagistic poems about his little blue house in France.

Paul Chambers’ The Dry Bones are even shorter. Rural haiku.

Both offer us glimpses of life as it is lived. Taylor shares the small expectations – of rain or deliveries – and the glimpses of action captured in art.

There is a direct visual sense at work here. Sometimes as literal as picking out colours on the Pantone colour chart:

“quiet field at this hour no sign of movement beyond the rise indoors six cylindrical notes before the quartet begins 2327 CP 649 C 2329 XGC 7543 C 431 CP pale blue greyish olive”

Sometimes less so, but still bounded by art and its inscription:

“Rooted in the exact pen scrapes paper on the map we descend to reorganisation the colour is historic she favours tulips without break find a form stick to it leave space alone like nesting birds curate the aura by implication gestures between the cradle and grave miniscule time”

The quasi-experimental approach here amplifies the visual by embedding it in a gestural flow of speech. It’s post-impressionist; not abstract, or at least not truly abstract. It is more like a montage of parts flickering together with enough rapidity to become a unified whole.

These are word pictures. Moments caught by words as solid as paint on canvas.

We are presented with a gallery of these images. Some too abstract for some tastes, some too concrete for others. But the totality of the work presents us with a form that helps each individual piece cohere to a balanced whole.

We are carried to the house itself. A moment’s travel. A gasp of wind through the warm air.

Paul Chamber’s haikus strip the language back yet further. Bare images; gasps of word.

He follows the haiku form quite closely. The 5-7-5 syllable form has been dropped (commendably, as I don’t think English is suited to it), but he retains the three-line structure, the use of seasonal words and the emphasis on the natural.

Each poem is an encounter. Rainy mornings, winter nights, summer days, we meet with crows, children, rivers and roads.

The animal haiku in particular are powerful. Encounters in the wild in the style of Priest Issa. Each is a surprise.

We are presented with a remarkably dense collection. You can feel the work of years between the slim covers of this pocket-size book.

Both collections are masterworks of concision and cohesion. I would expect nothing less from Red Ceilings, who continue to bring us the best in small scale poetics.

These are books for wandering through the world with.

Joe Darlington

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