Thursday 11 October 2018

Review by Andrew Doubt of "Waiting for the Nightingale" by Miles Burrows

Miles Burrows was born in Leicester in the 1930s. Last year he published his second book of poetry after a gap of fifty years. These eighty poems are a joy, shot through with humour; they weave big themes of love, death, memories and poetry from life’s experience.

The first verse of the eponymous opening poem considers birdsong on the Indian subcontinent; the second imagines ‘the wandering major in the foothills’ thinking about ‘his own wife back in Hazelmere / With that awful car salesman type’; the third asks whether John Keats is any use to the birdwatcher in the field, illustrating his irreverent approach both to colonial history and to poetry.

He leads us to believe that he has loved many and often. In 'It’s Eight O’Clock', he cannot
remember which one of five women he shared an experience with twenty years earlier; he reports her saying, ‘It’s not love it’s like margarine.’ 'Pussycats' starts: ‘They used to leave their stilettoes by the door / As I recall, coming in barefoot to my study / In nothing but deerstalkers‘ but, ’Now, splitting up is cool … / I’m let go … / Like an old retainer locked accidentally in a home up for sale.’ In 'The Second Affair': ‘At twenty-five, Mutus thought that embarking on a second affair - / …Would be like having a second slice of cake.’

Death is treated in a similar way. In 'Letter to an Elderly Poet': ‘Relax, your rivals are dead.’; in 'Four Last Things' he suggests learning a foreign language, not to keep the brain active, but ‘You could surprise people / By speaking words in German as you die.’; and in 'Junk Mail', ‘I appreciate that you are dead, but even so… / …that intimate sigh / Into the ear, that wakes me at midnight - / Is it really from the orthopaedic mattress?’. 'Should Catullus be Read by Old People?' sees the funny side of living in an old people’s home.

His classical and literary allusions are fun to search out, though sometimes he does it for you: ‘I googled frottage yesterday’ he says in 'Cold Calling'.

Many of the poems deal with memories of home and schooldays, of his time studying classics and medicine at Oxford, and working as a doctor and psychiatrist in Britain and Asia. There are references to the Little Theatre, Leicester Mercury, London Road and tennis on Carisbrooke Road. In 'A Faulty Connection' he says: ‘- If I can get away with [saying, switch it] orf / People may think my parents don’t live in Leicester / But in Eaton Square.’

Although most of the poems are written in spare, conversational free verse, there are poems in sonnet form, poems that alternate just two rhymes throughout, as in 'Trouble at the Nunnery', and poems that half-rhyme, for example, ‘Imogen’, ‘imagine’ and ‘Sanatogen’ in 'Across the Road'. In 'English Provincial Poetry' he writes ‘Rhyme is no more needed than a two-tone doorbell.’ 

The book’s a many-toned delight.

About the reviewer
Andrew Doubt is a former physicist, engineering analyst and marketeer. He has spent half his life in Leicester, after working in mainland Europe. His interests range through literature and philosophy, science and the arts, long-distance walking and the environment, to family, friends and grandchildren. Currently, he’s writing sketches of close relatives from childhood memories, as well as occasional short stories.

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