REVIEW by Phillip Clement

NWR Issue 107

The Lantern Cage

by Kelly Grovier

The Lantern Cage, Kelly Grovier’s third collection with Carcanet Press, is a playful exploration of the mysteries lurking at the margins of our perception; a collection ‘whose object / is larger than it appears’. Frequent references to sixteenth-century astrologers and astronomers conjure an atmosphere of mysticism in which poems appear on the page as if ‘in the language of the dream’, while visual and syntactic puns tease at the internal logic of the poems, often adding to the unsolvable nature of their subjects.

Grovier’s poetry is precise and well crafted. Throughout the collection a combination of enjambment dropped lines are employed to great effect and lend the poems an aural quality that demands they be read aloud. In ‘Slip’, this feature evokes within the reader a sense of fluidity:

A small slip of paper,
no larger than the page

you are holding in your hands,
is drifting down
Oxford Street,
catching, every few steps

In other areas this feature has the effect of reinforcing the precise composition of his poetry and additionally leaves a suggestion within the reader’s mind of a ghost of the unspoken word, such as here from ‘The Lantern Cage’ where ‘some words stay back and some were never there’:
After carving

the bluetit, we would pluck it
clean of meat

for sandwhiches,
boil the beast’s brittle

lantern cage

Rather than evoking a sense of fluidity, I found that this imposed an image of the bird’s skeleton, making the poem sharper and giving it an altogether more insidious feel – as though it were a lullaby played in minor key.

However, the chief success of The Lantern Cage is found within the sustained illustration of sight and sound throughout the collection. In ‘A Short Introduction to Hearing’, the poet cannily deconstructs the process and in doing so strips the scientific syntax down to its barest syllabic essentials to reveal the musicality of the words: ‘vestibules of the osseous / labyrinth, its anvil / and hammer / must first transcend / a maze of nerve and muscle.’

Reduced in this manner, the words adopt a staccato metre that hammers at consciousness, invoking implications that meaning must be, in some manner, mined from each respective utterance. Further use of archaeological lexis reinforces the imagery of hearing in this primitive form: ‘every syllable [as] a ghost, every word an excavation’.

In ‘The Edge’, Grovier draws upon the meditations of the Paraclesian physician Robert Fludd, finding harmony in his statement that ‘Earthly music is only the faint tradition of the angelic state, it remains in the mind of man as a dream of, and the sorrow for, the lost paradise.' In this poem, the speaker watches the ‘moon stream’ and draws a comparison between the orbits of the celestial bodies above him with the rotation of disks on a player; he watches as they ‘shuffle / their invisible tracks’ and appears to dream of a final element to set the scene in perfection:

all this winter evening needs / is a soundscape – notes to bind the soul / with strings, rhythm to carry it / to the very edge.

Throughout the collection these delicate touches and nuances reveal a delight in the poetic treatment of sensory expression and cast Grovier as a poet acutely attuned to the intricacies and balances of light. This is particularly true in the ekphrastic sequence, ‘Vertical Horizons’, which, taking their inspiration from a series of abstract colour blocked paintings, explore light in its different regards. Taken together, the three poems reflect each other and assume a subtle meta-narrative in which they appear self-aware, the ‘selves’ of each reverberating off of each other as though caught in a mis en abyme: ‘Strange to hear one’s soul ask itself / how much of you is still willing / to play along with the endless / switching on of the lights….’

In this way, Grovier reacts to the chequered motifs of Scully’s art and the reader is overwhelmed by the notion of ‘sense giving way / to other senses, and words’.

Phillip Clement is a contributor to New Welsh Review online and in print.


previous review: Under An African Sky: A Journey to the Frontline of Climate Change
next review: Letters from Portugal & Black and Blue


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