Wednesday 20 December 2023

Review by Colin Dardis of "No Small Thing" by Trevor Conway

Trevor Conway opens up his third collection with an engaging essay, expanding on the themes of the book, serving as an amuse-bouche for what lies within. In the world of post-pandemic literature, Conway realises that we have all been forced to look inwards, spending more time in the house, shut off from others. Naturally, what arises are the themes of home and family, and chiefly for Conway, the new arrival of a daughter. Imagine Bill Bryson’s At Home, exploring the dichotomy of the home and all its trappings, but told through the intimate prism of a small (and often sleep-deprived) family. 

One of the highlights of the collection is the personification of certain rooms in the house, given voice to comment on their nature, and the comings and goings of the people who use them. These poems are rich in humour and fancifulness: we find a hallway that feels neglected because it’s only used to get from one place to another; it is rarely the desired destination. Elsewhere, an attic ponders on its quietude, whereas the bathroom sees all manner of private horrors. 

Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture states that "a house is a machine for living in," and so we find ruminations on laundry, child-rearing, cooking, cleaning and other domestic demands. It is within this endless machination that Conway gives us his richest descriptions: minced beef cooked until "all its red head are dulled," "nappies full as the shell of a snail," the emptying of a wheelie bin "taken like fish in one gulp," or a television set that "jabbers like a senile uncle." There is beauty in mundanity here, and Conway excels as reimagining these tasks through language into things of affection and astonishment.

The daughter poems show us a sense of fragility: "Oh, Man" muses on how some men struggle with fatherhood. "Baby Steps" marvels at the child "coming to terms | with the new physics | of her body machinery," but fears what new dangers walking will bring. Hope for the future also arises, coupled with the uneasy undercurrent of knowing that no future is wholly secured, the shadow of the pandemic looming over the years ahead.

         Other images we have yet to see:
         a schoolbag tight like a barnacle to your back,
         the jagged, crayon scrawl of your name,
         your face womaned in make-up.

It is a testament to Conway’s effectiveness that this reviewer – childfree and with no desire to rear – found the tenderness and devotion inescapable. 

There is the occasional poem outside of the home, of airplane flights, of ruminations on Galway city and a new beginning in Catalonia. Yet it is the scenes that take place inside the familial four walls that come across as most personal. No Small Thing lives up to its title, showing the reader that the apparent microcosms of daily life are a huge part of our being and our identity, and that fatherhood has brought with in a new appreciation of these "houses shared like simmering saucepans | of routine, belief and ritual."

About the reviewer
Colin Dardis is a neurodivergent writer, editor and sound artist from Northern Ireland. His most recent book is with the lakes (above/ground press, 2023), a series of twenty-five poems loosely connected by the theme of water. His work, largely influenced by his experiences with depression and Asperger's, has been published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and USA.

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