Machine Journey is a pamphlet of meanderings, listings and questions being asked. It holds our attention in the dramatic scenes of ‘Encounter with the Angel’ and ‘Detective,’ appeals to us in ‘The Writer’ about overcoming blockage and Imposter Syndrome, and charms in the wonderfully rhythmic ‘Slough in my dreams.’ Darting between place and time, the poet maintains a consistent voice and style through this collection of mostly prose poems.
Doyle’s final entry in this pamphlet, ‘The Perfect Stroke,’ was the work that fascinated me most. Robert Frost once said, ‘No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader,’ and I can’t help wonder if the poet had a plan when he began writing this poem.
Insightful, precise, alluring and mysterious, this poem drifts from the obvious to the … not so obvious. Each stanza begins ‘The best thing about swimming is …’ before exploring a sense of challenge, ‘I can swim from start to finish with only two breaths,’ then ‘that sense of freedom. / No clothes or money or shoes, just your swimming trunks, / goggles and a locker key.’
Lists are a feature of many of Doyle’s poems, and this serves to lull us into a methodical rhythm, pleasantly subdued for when something out of the ordinary appears. And that’s precisely what happens here, as ‘the other swimmer’ appears at the end of each section: ‘My eyesight is much better with / my goggles but I could only glimpse a blurry shape moving / through the water.’
‘Every time I stopped to look / across, the swimmer turned around and dived deep.’ Depth is a point of intrigue for me – the casual reference to the beauty of swimming, how the water becomes you, then this other creature emerges, dives, and the poet is suddenly questioning our ancestry, back to when ‘humans were / semi-aquatic and this is why you can submerge a newborn / in water and they will hold their breath and start paddling.’
In the final stanza we arrive at ‘the perfect stroke,’ the ‘sweet spot’ where the subject is at one with their environment, twisting and moving, evolving into something quite other. I can say no more without spoiling the poem, other than Doyle concludes with a sudden turn which he is adept at reproducing throughout his work – a skill which makes his poetry fun, engaging and full of surprise.