Another Excellent Review of Enchantment
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Enchantment, by David Morley
David Morley’s poetry collection opens with a sonnet-sequence, written in memory of a friend of his. Although they have the requisite 14 lines Morley’s sonnets depart from tradition in a number of ways with line-lengths of around 15 to 20 syllables, and lacking end-rhymes, but building internal patterning with assonance and half-rhyme. The quality of the writing in these short pieces is particularly striking and they are poems which the poet’s background as a naturalist shows through to good effect. The evocation of, for example, an Alaskan Salmon, is as powerful and fully realised as the faunal observations of Ted Hughes or Alice Oswald, while his specialist knowledge prevents the pieces from slipping into the all-too-easy Romanticism of ‘nature poetry’. This is also true in the poem which follows the sonnet-sequence: ‘The Lucy Poem’. The title alludes to Wordsworth’s famous Lucy poems, but the eponymous subject in this case is not a young girl but rather the 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton. In content, these opening poems are far from typical of the collection, with the majority of the pieces in the collection concerning the world of Romany gypsies, both their day-to-day experiences and their myths, with the line between the two becoming intriguingly blurred at many points.
The Romany section of the book begins with ‘Hedgehurst’, based on a traditional story concerning a being which is half hedgehog and half human. The poem is spoken by the Hedgehurst in an incantatory tone which at times recalls Geoffrey Hill’s earlier work: “I was space between an axe-edge / and the oak’s white wound.” This is the most lyrical of the Romany poems, the others becoming at times more narrative in tone, at others more directly spoken. The sequence ‘A Lit Circle’, for example, uses monologues by a series of circus workers to take us behind the scenes of that aspect of Romany life in which we are most likely to have encountered them; from ringmaster, to clown, to strongman. The poems do not shy away from the darkness behind the circus, and feel authentic in their blend of pride and realism. In fact, darkness is the presiding hue of the Romany poems. Tradition is celebrated, but Morley is keen to remind us of the hatred many have felt towards gypsies both historically and through to the present day. As with Morley’s previous two books (Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings) in this loose trilogy, the oral roots of poetry are fore-grounded. The poems remind us of their connection to both magic and to making, as the mythic intertwines with the artisan. In language and in content these are startling creations and a powerful conclusion to the sequence.