Friday 21 October 2022

Review by Jane Simmons of "Standing Up with Blake" by Philip Dunn

Philip Dunn’s work has already won him many local admirers, and now his keenly-awaited first collection introduces his work and his poetic voice to a wider audience, beyond the place where ‘the alchemy of dyke and drain / make liquid silver of the leaden skies.’

The opening poems explode into life, taking the reader from the Trump presidency by way of Blake and his visions of angels to the impoverishment of language through the removal of words from the dictionary, the extinction of lambs and lions, and the coming of a world which ‘will henceforth only ever home whatever never takes a breath.’ 

The political and the personal cross paths throughout the collection: it is only ever a small step from internet trolling to political violence, and from the evils of social media to the i-phone literate seven year-old who does not know his own surname or family address.

Dunn knows the value of approaching his subject ‘slant’ – using the song of a blackbird to plunge the reader into WW1 trenches, or skilfully exploiting intertextuality, such as when he uses the title ‘Cant and Culpability’ to make pointed comment on current politics or employs a reference to Jenny Joseph in an example of the wry or self-deprecating humour which is another characteristic of his work.

These poems do not just resonate with concerns about past and current political situations and about social change. Elsewhere, there are poems of considerable tenderness: for the awkward boy, uprooted from his familiar surroundings and hearing ‘the unmistakeable voice of exile’; for first love, ‘the boy on the green bench / burning like a grazed knee’; for relatives becoming increasingly frail in old age; and for a friend struggling with a dementia diagnosis.

Altogether, this is a collection which was well worth the wait.

About the reviewer
Jane Simmons is a former teacher – and now a PhD student. She won the University of Leicester’s G. S. Fraser poetry prize in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the Seren Christmas poetry prize in 2020. Her work has appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Blue Nib Magazine and on the Seren blog, as well as being long-listed for the Butcher’s Dog Magazine.

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