David Briggs is an Eric Gregory Award winner and published widely, including with Bloodaxe and Salt. This new chapbook from Maquette Press is a collection of poems bristling with ideas that challenge the reader to hang on to the unravellings, encountering clever handholds of language along the visionary way.
The title poem offers an insight into the workings of the Vision Helmet, a device to reveal the partially known/recalled as fuller if only momentary revelations, perhaps like poetry itself that grasps the fleeting but with its clarity, or even a more mundane if comforting moment ‘like old friends at a reunion party’ who share social memories. The visions can also offer more than you ever imagined, but you’ll need to read the poem to discover that surprise.
Briggs further explores in Sauce for the Goose what seems to be this notion of sudden if temporary self-discovery by looking at those who don’t seize their day’s moment, or cannot process the randomness of percipience,
‘catching in their minds
like plastic bags in winter trees’
This poem too ends on a wonderfully oblique metaphor, and you know what you’ll have to do to make this literal discovery.
More overt observations are cast in political poems about Afghanistan and Angola, and the first The Games We Play chronicles the 35mm film reel narrative of ‘a ten-year-old boy/playing stick-and-wheel’ whose in-situ story of play is viewed in the paradox of the ‘white AC’ed room/in a gallery in Downtown Toronto’ where the poet uses his own art to empathise with the film’s art in placing one moment of simple pleasure against the consciousness of potential catastrophes inherent in war and/or the subsequent, apparent peace ‘…post-Bush/Blair Afghanistan’; and the second Newsworthy uses a satirical tone to present more of these everyday poles of existence in worlds far more precarious than ours, where the distance between play and death or the classic haves and have nots is encapsulated in this bleak apt line, ‘in that landline-poked limbo’.
Throughout this excellent collection Briggs presents potent and evocative ways in which the writer envisions the world and makes it known – in its literal or metaphoric moment – so that the more ostensible in First They Came… is seen in the same way most of us see it, ‘…I saw the refugees on television/cradling confused dogs in dinghies’ and the context for such desperation is simply if catastrophically real, like the Mediterranean drought which
‘….came so often that farmers walked away
from their fields, were found hanging
from rafters in barns even the rats
whereas the more mysterious in Faustian is seen by choices we make or are made for us, here as the soldier returning home is ‘waymaking a desire line’ where reflections on being a ‘…blue-eyed,/ghost-haired, cornstalk boy’ are played against the judgement/proposition offered by an unknown watching old man, so that the soldier is faced with his own decision-making,
‘This, then, is your one chance: a moment
wherein the accumulated wisdom
of a turbulent life will be weighed
in the feather-light scales of your choice.’
I’ll close this brief review by mentioning two further poems that typify both the richness of Briggs’ crafting within poems and that which shines overall in this delightful chapbook collection.
The first On Show Time represents a lightish mood as the poet reflects on middle age (well, forty – he clearly hasn’t heard how sixty is the new forty and hopeful middle age….) with a comic commentary on how ‘Adland’ seeks to assuage advancing years with its ‘slowness fetished’ advertising like
‘the pyroclastic flow of gravy
over beef and potatoes,
a solitary 4×4 on a silver ribbon
of clear road through a National Park, etc.’
This is set against memories of youth and an energetic bike ride where the poet crested a hill on a heath to look out on his ‘untested potential’.
The second is the closing poem Lullaby, a darkly ironic rumination on the dire ‘cost/of the sleep that eluded us’ when ‘black dreams….fledged into the room/seeking the mosquito-thick/skies of their nighthunting’, a long line I have truncated to give a gist of the poet’s distinctive skill with language and ideas rather than spoil the reading of the whole – a genuinely lively experience.
And it is that truly engaging reading experience that draws us into these at times perplexing ideas, as well as work layering more concretely yet no less meaningfully. After all, it is as a reader of poetry that you want more than surface detail about or familiar interpretation of the world in which we live and, occasionally, share similar experiences, and Briggs’ writing in this collection will encourage you to ‘risk the night’s small teeth at your throat’.
For further details, and to purchase for £5, go here.