When I announced on my personal Facebook page that I was starting a blog, my most immediately supportive friend was Andrew Jarvis. He was one of a close-knit group of friends I had in high school, from whom I’ve been parted geographically but never in terms of my affection for them. When we were kids, Andy (a nickname he used then but no longer) and I bonded through a love of music, dancing, silliness and not giving a damn what anybody thought of us. To me, Andy was honest and free and ready to barrel headlong into life.
Recently, I saw him again for the first time in 15 years. I have to admit I barely recognised the boy who’d been such a big part of my life. I saw this calm, careful, articulate man named Andrew. He was all grown up and a published poet.
When he asked me to review his new book on my new blog, I was very flattered. But I have to say I feel a bit overwhelmed with the responsibility. Despite having a PhD in English, I don’t see myself as much of a poetry critic. So I’m approaching this review as a normal person who might want to read a bit of poetry. Thus forward, in my review I will call the poet Jarvis, as if we never drove together to the bowling alley singing Michael Jackson songs at the top of our lungs.
Poetry is perhaps not as popular in modern times as it once was. Friends recommend books and movies to each other, but rarely say, ‘hey, I read this great poem the other day’. Which is a shame actually, because a good poem carefully constructed can say as much in one page as an entire novel. Don’t think you have the time and energy to read much? You have time to spend 2 minutes reading a poem. Jarvis’s latest book, Landslide, is a good place to start. It is full of these perfect micro-stories that whisk you away to another world, draw you in and then spit you out with a changed perspective.
I feel like, knowing the author, I should have an insight into his poems and what they’re all about. But I don’t. In any case it doesn’t matter – my English degree whispers to me that the author is dead. So these are the themes that I see in this collection:
- The brutality of nature and the brutality of man upon the natural world.
- The inevitable decay of all earthly things, including those things that we love the most.
- The way in which we love to erase the old with the new, but that memories are not so easily consigned to oblivion.
It sounds a little depressing, but actually it is uplifting . There is beauty in the recognition that these things come to pass and yet we all carry on. But most of all, the beauty is in the words themselves, conjuring images that carry you away from your sofa to a place where “sea lions adore / the abandoned, the thawed / freezers of heads and tails / as if they found Eden”.
Jarvis’s turn of phrase is so evocative and succinct, it’s like encountering each single drop of dew on a spider’s web as captured in a photographer’s lens. Here are a few excerpts from my favourite poems in this collection.
From “The Boxes”
She refilled the candy
when the grandchildren came,
peppermint mints and kisses
made of milk chocolate.
And we always found it,
in her special hiding place,
just below the pictures
and her little children things.
From “Rail Man”
The ballast, anchor, and roadbed,
the torn unfastened fastenings,
they severed his whole to his parts.
From “Old Growth”
Grandfather grew forests for us,
pierced the clouds and summoned their falls,
feeding the roots of his children.
From “Memory Bird”
And like an architect drafting the air,
she wants to remodel her memories,
piece together the wings, and fly back home.