REVIEW by Seki Lynch NWR Issue 99
by David LloydWarriors
is a collection by David Lloyd that is preoccupied with the fights faced by all, be they grand or subtle, physical or psychological. Lloyd adopts scenarios of philosophical circumstance, utilising historical figures and fictional characters to explore what a warrior is and could be. These range from Ghenghiz Khan killing and raping without fear of consequence (in death even the gods are not safe), to a boy beginning to realise the sentence of death on us all. Many of the poems are written as narratives, the story told in heightened prose and the denouement providing the poetic revelation. Often there are no solutions, only the resolve to carry on knowing little more than why one should despair. In this the collection is full of subtle hopes: the hope which comes with the knowledge that others have gone before and that things will continue after we have gone, and the hope that lies in our species’ readiness to fight in the face of adversity, which has been our defining characteristic and the reason for our success.
But Lloyd is also wise to the potential problems of this trait, and his poems question our ambitious appetites and whether our knowledge is ultimately an advantage or a handicap. Lloyd seems to acknowledge optimism as the earliest of human sentiments, believing that humans would not have been so successful if they were not presupposed to believe that everything will work out, whether in their own lifetime or beyond it. It would follow that his poetry is as astute in its emotional content as in its use of the philosophical concepts which have been intrinsic to thought in some form or other for centuries. Sadly, the majority of the poems in the collection fail to stimulate emotionally, the intellectual ideas making the poetry more of an exercise in abstract thought.
‘The Everyday Apocalypse’ contrasts human consciousness with what birds may experience at dawn. There is envy at their lack of knowledge about the world, and a longing to be free from awareness and so able to experience life in a fuller, more immediate way:
as birds they believe this sun
rises into the darkness of the last day –
that this blue will never be blue again,
that branches will never bend this same way.
I’d like to... sit myself in the quiet before dawn
and see what I won’t know is the sun
and believe there is only one dawn,
one moment to sing.
The poem is rather similar in theme to Ted Hughes’ ‘The Howling of Wolves’. Both poems explore the concept of consciousness, yet where Hughes’ language is refreshing and surprising, Lloyd’s use of the sestina means that his language is repetitive by definition. Clearly, the repeated end words are intended as a metaphor for the repetition of days, but the plain-telling narrative means the poem lacks brightness, relying on concept for poetic quality. There is also a failure in the end words themselves. ‘Brain’ is used by the author as a repeat of ‘gain’ or ‘again’. While this breaking of form doesn’t affect the rhythm of the poem, the fact that it lacks purpose does raise a question of technique.
‘The Everyday Apocalypse’ provides one example of how profound thought is used throughout to carry what are otherwise simply-told poems. I find nothing wrong with this. One of the best lines in the collection, ‘Nothing is as new as skin’, is very simple, but the near rhyme and the attention to how ‘n’ and ‘s’ will fall on the ear give great impact.
Some of the best poetry in the collection comes in part 3, entitled ‘Father and Son’, where it seems that Lloyd finally shows true emotional engagement. In ‘Telling’, a father is trying to tell his son about the world, but his son states that he’s ‘tried it’. Until the father asks if he knows:
‘The irresolute bond between son and father,
when he loves him, fears him,
finds him distant and interior,
a mirror and a military wall,
and ocean and a muddy puddle underfoot?’
It follows: ‘Ok
, said the son. // Show me what you’ve got.
The language is aided by the immediacy of the dialogue, but the topic is ever-present, urgent and relevant. These are not musings that have little practical impact; here we see the war between every father and son.
Part of the problem with these poems seems ineffable. While most poems have all the ingredients, they just don’t seem to deliver. It is as though all the stars are in the sky, but for whatever reason they have just not aligned. Many of these are enjoyable and will reward repeat readings: Lloyd has captured the poetics of what it might mean to be a warrior. But while many of the resulting poems are good, few are as great as the warriors they describe.
previous review: My Heart on My Sleeve, 14 Stories of Love from Wales
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