BLOG Jake Oliver

NWR Issue 102

Philip Gross launches 'Later' at Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Reading to an audience, ‘half of whom are writers’, at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre bookshop just before Christmas, Philip Gross officially let Later, backed by the estimable Bloodaxe, into the wild. Though Gross stated he felt that he was through with exploring his relationship with his father after his last book, Deep Field, as he began writing the poems that would become Later, the subject matter continued to gravitate to his father’s dementia and ultimately his final days. Using astronomy as a metaphor for the conception of his poems several times, it was fitting that Gross began the reading ‘in the air’, so to speak, looking out over Wales from an airplane, ‘the one time [he] felt [he] could truly hold Wales in the palm of [his] hand.’

The remainder of the poems from Later largely centred on Gross’ father, an Estonian immigrant who had fled the war-torn country not long before the Iron Curtain effectively closed Eastern Europe off from the rest of the world. Though I typically do not care for when a poet explains the inspiration or themes of a poem prior to reading it, in this case I found Gross’ preludes to the reading of each poem insightful and illuminating. They made the booklaunch not just an oral version of what one might find upon purchasing the book, but more like an open channel with Gross, the memory of his father, and his father’s fading memories.

There was an obligatory Q & A at the end of the reading, but that’s not what made the launch feel so personal. The subject matter obviously played a part (as did the wine and snacks, no doubt), but what tied it all together was the ever-engaging Gross. He let us into his world, giving voice to Later’s excellent poems, and, perhaps most importantly, he gave us a glimpse into the sacred bond of father and son, and into the deep pain that losing a loved one, in this case in more ways than one, can cause.

For Gross, Later was in part journeying to Estonia to commune with a vision of his father, somewhere in his younger days before the Soviet Union and the Third Reich tore the country apart, on a different time stream, for example popping his head into a café in Tallinn. The book is gravity, force, and constellations of travel along different planes. His father never returned to Estonia. For him, home was gone in the physical realm, but remained in his mind. The tragedy of loss colouring Later was mixed with moments of sharp clarity: father inhabiting son during a game of chess, playing for him; son feeling his father’s loss so much more acutely. He grieves, ultimately, for more than the end of a life.

Jake Oliver is an NWR online contributor.


previous blog: Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival, 6-8 December 2013
next blog: Gladstone’s Library - A stupendous place for writers in north Wales


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