Issue 9

Autumn 2013


Roy Marshall, The Sun Bathers, Shoestring Press, 62pp, £9.00

Roy Marshall first came to my attention when we published him in Antiphon, in issue 3 and again in issue 8. This is his first full collection after his pamphlet 'Gopagilla'. His subjects range freely, including his experiences as a nurse, nature observation, and family history. The language and telling of the poem's story are generally straightforward, though often deceptively simple – his choice of vocabulary is often superb and deals with its subject matter with subtlety. He has an ability to get the heart of the poem through image and the sparsest lines of description – for example, the way a child can live completely in the present is beautifully captured in a few lines in 'Dandytime'. This adroitness works best when there is an undercurrent of some further event or emotion beneath the obvious, as here in 'Careers Advice':

His beak dirty orange, the colour of seventies
sports car glass fibre, enveloped in my palm,
comfortable as a carved cane-top.

I squeeze out the sponge, skim the dark
sleeved neck, chase oily dreck from the down
of his chest. This one doesn't object, and this

we have in common; I dredge up the careers
officer as he plumped for tractor driving
while I sat and eyed him, mute as a swan.

Marshall can narrate with great delicacy and conciseness, setting up the scenario with care and paring the material down to the absolute essentials for his purpose. In poems like 'Hawk's Eye' this works superbly, contrasting the sharpness of the bird's eye with man-made imaging devices, ending with:

No lurid thurmal image willk capture the jolt
to the shrew's heart or the snatched plum
of its shadow rising beneath a drape of wings.

A few of the poems are a little slight: in 'Floodplains', or 'Hare', the ideas and vocabulary feel less fresh – the one with mirrored sky, the next mirrored beams. The deliberate use of everyday language gives the reader instant delight in the recognition of the emotion displayed, but for me his work really soars when it reaches further for the perfect metaphor, such as that 'snatched plum'. One I very much enjoyed for its flights of imagery was 'The Catch', a poem about shoals of fish (though the word 'fish' is never mentioned) invading Midland towns where the final metaphor is left delightfully oblique.

There is a short section of five poems centered around the life of Leonardo da Vinci which is interesting and contains some lovely phrases: 'Sketched skulls rest in margins,/brains trail fine-roots down the page' but which feel more superficial than the other poems, reading more as the poet's admiration of Leonardo than offering any particular insight into his work or technique. Marshall's more personal love poems or those about meeting distant relations and learning of their history are told with enormous sensitivity and delicacy:

The valley draped in wood-smoke webs,
my hair ruffled by his hardened hand,
the welcome I had never known till then,
when all the men of Italy loved me back.

and he can capture character with a few strokes of the pen.

I look forward to further work where Marshall stretches himself a little more – perhaps longer poems with more nuanced emotion and purpose – (I feel this book is from a poet just beginning to discover what he is capable of) – but there is a great deal here to admire and enjoy.