The Good News by Rob A. Mackenzie & The North End of the Possible by Andrew Philip
Humour and Pathos
Salt’s recent announcement that it will no longer be commissioning new single author collections but instead will concentrate on publishing anthologies of poetry adds a certain gravitas to reading these two handsome, hardback books.
Andrew Philip’s The North End of the Possible asks how we are shaped by isolation, belonging and landscape. Writing in both Scots and English, Philip’s poems are filled with an earthy musicality. A narrative runs through the collection in the shape of MacAdam, an enigmatic, Red Bull drinking, moon recycling character resurrected from Philip’s first collection, The Ambulance Box. “Trauchled by the paraphernalia/ of a life spent tinkering” MacAdam sets about “cobbling light apart” in ‘A Child’s Garden of Physics (1)’ and “…like a cirquedu- freak performer,/he falls bedlong into the geography/of the tethered body” in the beautiful ‘Skate and Samphire’. Elsewhere a newsreader mutates into Scots in ‘Look North (and North Again)’ and a piper is told “ye cannae play” in ‘Tae a Lousy Piper’. ‘10×10’ is a tender sequence celebrating a decade of marriage while ‘Bereavement fir Dummies’ jolts with the opening lines “Bonnie, unkent boy; bracken bairn:/deid pixel at the centre o ma screen”. More curious are ‘Oh, Jubilant Jute Lid!’ and ‘Cheer Friend of Both’ written in a form Philip has developed – the abnominal – using only the letters of the dedicatee’s name. Philip writes with daring and playfulness. As he tells us in ‘MacAdam Essays the Truth of Each Dichotomy’ – “…So many/choices, MacAdam,/and none without a smack of risk”.
Rob A. Mackenzie delves into the subject of happiness in The Good News and all that accompanies the struggle to find it. The first of the book’s three sections, ‘The Lingua Franca Happy Hour’, reflects Scotland at a pivotal point in its history in ‘An Angry Queen Tours the Royal Mile’, ‘Tippexed Speeches on Scottish Independence’, and a cento, ‘A Scottish Cent(o)ury’, constructed
from lines by a hundred Scottish poets (Philip’s collection features a cento consisting of lines and phrases taken from Mackenzie’s first collection The Opposite of Cabbage). Mackenzie draws us close in the middle section ‘Autistic Variations’, a moving but unsentimental look at a family affected by autism against an Italian backdrop of displaced domesticity. Particularly poignant is
‘The Trouble’, reminiscent of Edwin Morgan’s ‘A View on Things’ – “The trouble with me is the fog that enters the picture./The trouble with the picture is that no one is able to draw it”. Fragility and perseverance are explored in ‘Consequential Egg’ which, by way of an overheard conversation, imagines an egg being built from ten thousand egg shell pieces “until an egg the size of a bus wobbles on a tiny cup./How does it end?” The third section ‘Human Manoeuvre’ takes us on journeys through faith and the human condition. No small subjects but Mackenzie handles them with delicate ease. Peppered with references to popular culture, poems like ‘The Boxer’ and ‘Soundings’ lead us to the bare bones of life’s discomforts in ‘Horizontal’, a reminder that “We try to occupy each space and tame/ utilities as if contentment were a right”.
With crossovers aplenty these two collections are a pleasure to read together. Both assured and brimming with humour, pathos and linguistic surprises they lend themselves to be being read and reread and, while it is understandable that Salt couldn’t sustain their rate of poetry publication in the current climate, it is heartening to read such ambitious collections that made Salt’s list while the going was good.
The Good News
Rob A. Mackenzie
The North End of the Possible
Salt, RRP £12.99 each, 80pp