Lucy Van Reviews Little Windows 1 with Jill Jones, Andy Jackson, Alison Flett and John Glenday

21 September 2016

John Glenday shares Flett’s attraction to poetry’s potential to reveal, and confront the multiple registers of habitation; empire of lights is lyrical, ironical in its terse study of illumination and space. In Glenday’s economical collection poems brighten and darken, expand and contract in a heterogeneous flux. The defiant ‘undark’ opens with a clever twist on the gothic return:

And so they come back, those girls
who painted the watch dials luminous, and died. 

They come back and their hands glow and their lips
and hair and their footprints gleam in the past like alien snow.

Like an open photographic negative, an image returns only to disappear in a luminous blaze: ‘But though they open their mouths to answer me / all I can hear is light.’ Filled with such alien premonitions, empire of lights charts the shadows that darken the modern world. If Jones seems classical, Glenday feels medieval, troping on biblical agonies (‘annunciation’) and witchy women (‘alba’, ‘the apple ghost’) in an accretive revision of imperialistic ‘placings’ of the human within the cosmos:

Someone explained once how the pieces of what we are
fall downwards at the same rate
as the Universe.
The atoms of us, falling towards the centre

of whatever everything is. And we don’t see it.
We only sense their slight drag in the lifting hand. (‘concerning atoms’)

This laconic gesture towards an indisputable power – gravity as the ‘communal process of falling’ – is characteristic of Glenday’s approach. Simultaneously beautiful and terrifying, the moment is made all the more affecting by the staging of its humble creation scene at the poem’s close:

against nothing, like perfect rain,
and in the end, he wrote, mix in that common well of light
at the centre of whatever the suspected
centre is, or might have been.

In this chapbook, writing is revealed as the product of surreal contingencies; illumination unsettles and stings, like the lamp in Magritte’s eponymous painting. Glenday is an intriguing poet whose command of opposition and synthesis is remarkable.

Don’t be deceived by the modest appearance: LW1 is a serious collection of four well-matched poets, writing right in the pocket. Provocative, experimental, these poets ‘have words too’: their idiosyncratic response to the potentially ruinous promises of poetic language. Purchase the full set, look up the poets’ back catalogues, and look out for the next Little Windows series, set for release in May 2017.

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