New Light for the Old Dark – Review by John Field
For Sam Willetts, time doesn’t pass, it accretes. So, In ‘Stroke City (Derry, 2001), our ephemeral histories are as significant as geological strata: ‘Outside the shops, my friend Paul, / Bogside-born, says Look at the floor: // the pavement’s overlaid solid / with pale-coral, ivory, dove-grey / chewing-gum.’ Willetts gives us more than colours, he gives us something organic, grown with time and care into ornamental veneers – showing that even a brutal environment can soften, given time.
However, in ‘Ghetto,’ the persistence of time is more supernatural and troubling, as, ‘in the polite gloom // of the Ariel Café’s pre-war sitting-rooms, / amid the shining of mahogany and rosewood, // it is always late ghetto-afternoon, ominously still, / as if still haunted by the fear of night’s train coming.’ The café’s shining hardwood veneers imply timeless luxury, unchecked by conflict. However, the haunting fear of night’s train suggests a descent into a new darkness. Outside, ‘the rail spurs have rusted’ but they have not disappeared. It’s a precise phrase – Nazi railway spurs were the logistics of the Holocaust and so Willetts’ scene feels cautionary too, as, haunting though these rails are, are they still capable of carrying freight?
In ‘Truanting,’ we read that ‘At night, I knew the lines shone / like a river of rails under the sidings-lights / as the wake of a train broke gently / through my bed,’ and perhaps we get a feel for one of the possible sources of Willetts’ poisonous mainline, his heroin addiction.
John Field regularly reviews poetry collections on his website, Poor Rude Lines, and has been described as “a top literary blogger” by poet and editor, Tom Chivers. Read more of his work at johnfield.org