New Welsh Review

for reasons unknown

Nigel Humphreys

For Daniel Snipe, this experimental poetry collection strays too far from his original project of narrative poetry anchored in the archetype Brock

PUBLISHED ON: 03/06/20

CATEGORY: Reviews

TAGS: experimental, poetry

This post is free to all website visitors

For access to the full New Welsh Review archive, become a subscriber today.

Subscribe

Nigel Humphrey’s for reasons unknown is the fourth publication in the Parhelion Poetry Series published by Arbor Vitae Press. This series aims to represent ‘something elusive, evolving, philosophical, classical and romantic. Poems of thought.’ Humphries also has his own goal in this new collection. In the author’s note, Humphreys states that he ‘wanted each poem to be relevant to a unifying idea and to plot the course of the narrative’.

Considering both of these descriptions regarding the overall goal of this collection, it is fair to suggest that Humphriesis on point, at least to a certain extent.   

In for reasons unknown, Humphreys creates a character through which the ideas of his poetry may be channelled. The poet introduces us to Brock, who he describes as ‘an individual without home, creed, philosophy or agenda’. Creating a character with such broad ideals is extremely ambitious. We are led by Brock’s stance to expect a lack of bias in regard to the topics raised in this collection. By the author’s definition, Brock should become an observer rather than someone who imposes his own ideals on the poetry.

Brock’s journey is split into different sections headed by roman numerals. We are first told what he is experiencing in grey text, which establishes the subject of the poem. It is then followed by black text for the poems. This structural pattern allows the reader to follow Brock’s journey with relative ease. However, the poems that follow Brock’s perspective segments can be unclear as to what they are trying to convey. The poet’s approach in this collection can create some interesting work with unusual takes on contemporary issues, but his style is only effective a small percentage of the time.

A good example of this is displayed by the poem ‘Passchendaele’. The Brock segment beforehand follows the character examining a war memorial, in which he feels saddened by those who pass it, believing they show a lack of respect for the dead. The following poem reflects on these thoughts and attempts to imagine the suffering of heroes, connecting the poem to Brock’s thoughts on the war memorial.

However, the majority of the time, I struggled to find relevant connections or ideas that had not already been investigated in hundreds of other poets’ works. The poem ‘fat lady yawning’, is an example of the potential problem the abstractness of this poetry can create. In the introductory Brock segment, we see the character’s thoughts on human perspective and the existence of time. The following poem is off track with what Brock suggests the themes might be.‘Time’ is far too vague a concept to automatically convey depth or importance of theme.

Looking beyond Humphrey’s style, the poetry offered does occasionally produce some interesting thoughts, which do chime with the original goals of the collection. For example, Brock’s XII segment titled‘Another stall hosts a stack of board games.’In this description, Brock focuses on the components of a board game and connects them to the idea of fate. The rolling of dice and how board games are designed lead Brock to connect this to the fairness and equality of life, further connecting metaphysical philosophy to everyday life. Humphrey’s metaphysical explorations concern themselves with the lives of everyday people. Humphreys attempts to view many aspects of life and how they have come to have a greater effect on our minds, possibly more so than at any other point in history.

At times I had a hard time trying to connect with this collection of poems. Often it felt as if the poet had picked a topic at random and then played word association games with it until he has strayed so far away from the original idea that the reader feels lost in mad ramblings. Humphreys set himself a hard task with the character of Brock, whilst also attempting to stay on track with his original stated goals. There are some fine examples of Humphreys poetry combining these elements to create some thought-provoking poetry. However, it is unfortunate to say that the majority of the poems lose themselves in the battle between the concept of Brock and the aims of the Parhelion Poetry Series.

 

Daniel Snipe was this spring’s Swansea Digital Correspondent in a new partnership with Swansea University’s College of Arts and Humanities.