Scott Thouard reviews Liam Guilar

13 May 2004

I'll Howl Before You Bury Me by Liam Guilar,
Interactive Press, 2003

I'll Howl Before You Bury Me is a title that suggests an emotional reprisal. The poems in this collection protest the repressing of individual vitality in favour of congenial surrender to the beige touchstones of contemporary life.

Here is a showcase of this theme from the first three sections of the collection:

They want enlightenment by formula
demanding what, how often, where and when.
They can't let go and trust themselves
but run around to find someone
to prove that water's wet.

('Mea Culpa')

Ice Caverns leading down
through loss and memory,
lust without joy driving
her perfect body hard
against its own extinction.

Survival is its own morality.

('A Folk Story')

In that other dance,
once debts were paid to lust
and absence, stranded by
a stranger in a mildewed bed.

('The Veteran')

Liam Guilar's second collection of poems sets to provide a lyric perception of history as a pragmatist's playground. He alerts us to values, in the form of ideals, of mythical antecedents while highlighting their virtues as the action that these ideals impel. History, Guilar suggests is bawdy, brutal, and luscious – but never sedentary or mediocre- attributes that the poet reminds us are a contemporary festoon.

In this collection, poems exhume the mythical heroes and the plurality of evils they face with little metaphysical crosschecking between slayers and battle fodder inner motivations. This is not to suggest that this collection is some light boy's own adventure volume. Clandestinely, this collection is more about social gentrification viewed in a Medieval microcosm clearly articulating Guilar's poetic skew of post renaissance claptrap.

Intuition or emotional honesty is the key trait of his ensemble of medieval dramatist, publicly lauded and privately worshipped jig master William Kemp and the cavalier activism of the Fool players [bands of youths “whose chief business it was to play gross comedies and to execute nonsensical and often ribald travesties on the Mass'. Ref.] who spin lustre of exuberance against the beige overtones of contemporary living.

In the office and factories,
the people killing time
ignore the subtle rhythms of the heart.
So, I am waiting for the Fool to come
dancing through the rain,
I am waiting for the miracle start.

So, why do you stand in the street on your own,
in your motley suit hung with bells.

('Fooled Again')

The populist entertainers of medieval history are floated as effective counter-culture partisans. The dance and dialogue of these liberated performers is esteemed above mere annoying medieval mischief through Liam Guilar's furtive examination of contemporary events.

The disparity of values and virtues are where history is most ignominious and pliable, to those who read it as a back catalogue for contemporary awareness. An awareness that heroes are in short supply, that virtue claimants are lightly tempered phobic waiting to be silenced rather than the daring and redemptive choice-takers of I'll Howl Before You Bury Me.

I envy you, Cuchulain, the simplicities
of your trade; finite as any whore's.
How easy it must be to 'step up to the ford'
and face an overwhelming host'.
I know the fear that dries the mouth,
and I have learnt how it refines performance
when techniques and habit overcome
the urge to flee.

('These Heroics')

The echoes of history are the steady kernels of Liam Guilar's poetic perspective. For example,

redrawn in loving colours
by Pre-Raphelites on benzedrine,
Ophelia is wired into a box
surrounded now by twitching lights
repetitive mechanical noise
and the habitual hushed movements
of the drifting staff.

('Four Landscapes')

Even in the familial recollection of his Aunt's demise is the maudlin image of plague-ridden bodies being sidled into a wretched pile in 'habitual hushed movements' ('Four Landscapes').

Guilar has a well-developed sense of place. Indeed, the interaction or integration of the poems central characters to the landscape is well refined in this collection. He depicts the tidal patterns, jostling energies of rivers and the landscapes as effigies of human loss, guilt and desire in an confrontive style. The natural world and the human habitats of contemporary life are not static cohorts, whose parallelism and juxtaposition are not easily refereed in
the poet's mind.

fishing for replies from God.
who lurked beneath the surface of all things,
like cunning salmon in the Conway
refusing to be hooked.

('You Should Know by Now')

In Between the Lines, the fourth and final section of the collection, the poet looks past value and virtue; he looks to the castigating miscues of life, the ones that close down, bitter-ball, as regret for lost opportunity. Such as in the 'Poem My Father Taught Me Roses' and in the following excerpt from 'Night Passage':

At low tide, the sea is just a rumour
on the breeze, the gulls hang over shorelines
I will never see, where strangers wait
to welcome me as enemy or lover.

Another example:

That summer in the Alps
(my twenty first),
I bought a postcard with a picture
That I knew she'd like
Before remembering she was dead.

Liam Guilar is a clear communicator. His poems are accessible and seamlessly delivered. His works, however, are only effusively received as immediate recognition allows. Individual readers will have discourse triggers and subconscious flashes but there are few psyche interning lines or stanzas in this collection. I am however prepared to entertain that this criticism is the figurehead of the separatism ethos that is the bane of this particular poet. In this case, solidarity is the value and separatism is the virtue and in between is the plausible lost opportunity if a lyric hungry public readily pass up Liam Guilar's collection.

Liam Guilar is cheerily combative in his second collection of poems. The poetry in this collection is repetitively wry and judiciously stores a task list for those palpably aggrieved by urban lore. Assuredly, the poet has explored the stoic, integrity prone medieval self delivering on an individual pact, of genealogical vengeance or miscreant dopamine, sacrificing a life to become the persona of the pathos of are collective who are sinking under an insurgent beige over wash. This is a collection of much interest and probable epiphany for the daring contemporary reader.

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About Scott Thouard


Scott Thouard is a poet and a short fiction writer. He is working toward the publication of a chapbook of select poems and fiction.

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