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Review - "Shoals of Starlings" by Andrew Martin

 

Steve Spence

"Shoals of Starlings" by Andrew Martin, pub. Waterhare Press. 133 pages

Andrew Martin’s debut collection is impressive in every way. These bird-themed poems have a distinct personality: they are minimalist, lyrical and precise, veering between representation and abstraction, filled with beautiful phrases and succinct encapsulations. Yet they are fractured, shattered beings, hinting at symmetry but displaying wounds and vulnerability in a manner which reminds me of John Clare. They are a wonderful blend of the modern and the traditional and as a commentary on the natural world have a descriptive quality which is also questioning, allusive, puzzling and full of unexpected turns. They are also very personal.

To complement the quiet power of the writing, Martin has produced a fractal visual for each poem, beautiful, dynamic images which are full of interesting shapes, colour mixes and a sense of movement, each contained within a square frame. These are wonderful paintings in their own right but the relationship between the words and the artwork, in terms of process, is unusually successful and appropriate. The design of the whole book is impressive too. It is large format, appears rectangular but is in fact square and each poem is placed on the left-hand side with the picture appearing on the right. The relationship between the poem and image is beautifully balanced and this is an artist/writer who clearly knows something of typography and page layout. I’m probably making this sound precious but the whole project is so-well designed that’s it’s a joy to pick up and hold as well as to read. Now to the poems and I’ll include a few short samples here to give the reader a taste:

     Crow  

     Born from snow
     heart riddled with smoke
     haunted by dreams of swans

     Cormorant

     Sooty gargoyle
     wings ragged
     as the flames
     that stroked them
     salt whispers
     to the stars
     held in your eyes
     watching the tides
     from the tip
     of a rib
     of a shipwreck
     as the spindrift
     with its faint kisses
     slowly erodes
     your face

     Skylarks

     A chandelier
     shivers in the sewer
     in the belly of a whale
     ghosts of skylarks
     crowd its stems
     their phantom songs
     drip in the dark
     tiny fields
     sprout from the splashes
     whisper
     to the unseen
     abandoned sky

There are over 50 poems and apart from those indicated above there are Jackdaws, Ravens, Gannets, Robins, Wagtails, Owls, Hummingbirds, Wrens, Swans, Jays and Goldcrests to name a few.

These poems are individual gems but they accumulate over the series into a whole that is greater than its parts. It’s been a while since I was so struck by a debut collection but I’m very glad to see this one and I think that Andrew Martin is a voice to look out for.



copyright © Steve Spence, 2020

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