Review of small press and independent books.
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The Flavour of Parallel by Nigel Humphreys, paperback, pp. 71, Arbor Vitae Press, £7.99
Nigel Humphreys’ second poetry collection portrays those fleeting moments of consciousness which usually slip by without being enunciated, like the ‘bow bolt flash’ of a woodland fish. It presents reactions to art, music and places, as well as musings about the mystery of existence.
The poems are complex: as I read, two or three interpretations often revolved in my mind. Yet the strange, spiky precision of the images renders them instantly enjoyable – ‘fag packets leafing the beds’, ‘weighing each ingot of breath’, ‘a salmagundi of medieval roofs’, a dragonfly’s ‘hairgrip-picklock legs’.
The wide-ranging language creates a sense of sharp focus; in places, humour. The poems surprise by juxtaposing words from different cultures and contexts, from scientific terminology to contemporary slang. We encounter quarks and pheronomes, iridescence and opulence, samaras and schadenfreude, a flash git and shits who blanked Coleridge.
The tone is often empathic – ‘I chase his vision and track its hunger to the limits of scrub / -land and the chapel ruin’. Yet alongside soaring imagination is a recognition that transcendence has its limits:
that the music’s waves
never quite tower enough
to drown the sentient me
In ‘Catedral de la Almudena, Madrid’, the poet’s spirit, given wings, ‘rebounded / cowed like a miner’s canary’. It’s an experience I’ve had many times, but never thought to put into words.
Limitation is also stressed in poems about our knowledge of the universe. While particle science brings us to an ‘irrelevant conclusion’, the agnostic poet can only envy religious faith that could ‘wrap’ the spirit ‘in hide against the Ice Age / of creature finity’.
The Flavour of Parallel deserves to be read and re-read, both for its original descriptions and the sensitivity with which it explores human experience.