Having successfully completed a campaign to force myself to enjoy olives and oysters, and in parallel with another to gain a better appreciation for a well-played game of chess, my concerted effort to acquire a taste for poetry continues in earnest. I have long liked the idea of olives, oysters, chess and poetry: I could see there was something in them, even when I couldn’t see anything in them. (I, of course, drew a line at jazz and opera.)
What I’ve discovered so far about poetry is that it falls into three broad camps:
- utter bilge;
- stuff that reads through perfectly sensibly and inoffensively, but that does nothing for me;
- stuff I really, really like.
Taking my penetrating analysis to the next level, I’ve begun to notice certain similarities between the poems that fall into the third (and by far smallest) category: they tend to be modern, precise, unpretentious, and relatively unconstrained by rhyme schemes and metre. It turns out I like poetry to adopt a similar approach to my favourite prose: keep it succinct; don’t try to show off; and make it about something I can relate to.
I’m glad to say Rob Cowen’s collection, The Heeding, beautifully illustrated by Nick Hayes, falls squarely into this third category. I thoroughly enjoyed these poems. They’re deeply personal, well observed, moving, and a pleasure to read.
A number of themes run through the collection: family life, nature, and the 2020 pandemic being the three most obvious. They’re themes that go uncannily well together.
The pieces that stood out to me on first reading included a remarkably affectionate poem about starlings, and a haunting account of the last moments of an elderly man in a nursing home. But it’s unfair to single out individual poems from a collection that, to this poetry philistine at least, seemed consistently excellent throughout.
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Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.