Friday 29 May 2020

Review by Rob Jones of "The Coming-Down Time" by Robert Selby

Robert Selby’s collection of poems The Coming-Down Time is broad in its scope but artfully tethered. With themes of conflict, love and nostalgia running through all three of its sections, each part nonetheless leaves a different impression. The poems are sufficiently structured such that each variation from said structure, and indeed each rhyme, is heavy with significance.

The first section, charting the life and legacy of the narrator’s grandfather through a series of vignettes, quickly establishes a strong sense of place. The main character’s quietness and modesty is reflected in subdued, thoughtful lines and the more detailed description of the life and events which surround him. It’s warm and heartfelt, with a strong sense of narrative progression through the whole section.

The title of the second section, ‘Shadows on the Barley,’ reflects its more fleeting and impressionist nature, with stories and scenes conjured from places and objects. The tone and subject material broaden considerably; there are still specific references to war but there is more exploration of the trauma it creates. Several of the poems are deeply moving, even chilling, which can be jarring in relation to those which continue to celebrate warmth and homeliness. There is room for romance in a rural past, but it is clearly made up of so much more.

‘Chevening,’ the third section, is much more about the present. The past is still venerated as old buildings, memorials and traditions are described, and the characters and voices move through them with varying degrees of engagement. A romance is described in moments across the poems. The setting of present-day rural Kent is idyllic, tempered though that is with the very last poem’s imagery of propaganda and curation.

The Coming-Down Time, in its consideration and cadence, demands time in itself. Find a green space, sit down and read it aloud.

About the reviewer

Rob Jones studied English with Creative Writing options at the University of Leicester and completed an MA in Victorian Studies there. He lives in Sileby with his wife, sings with Leicester University Chamber Choir and dreams of working in heritage.

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