From A to B by Gerry McGrath
I know Gerry McGrath personally. He lives in the village but grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland. He graduated from Strathclyde University, Glasgow and taught for some years. More recently, he moved to the south west of the country to concentrate on his poetry. He is a stimulating poet.
Gerry McGrath is also a poet concerned with humanity, with nature, with love and loss and how the prosaic and the poetic interact in day to day life. In his first anthology, “From A to B” his use of unconventional metaphors and similes gave many pleasant surprises as I saw things expressed in a way in which made perfect and beautiful sense however strange.
The poet describes ‘Untamed Lightning, Knees like Emaciated skulls, the sky…clean-shaven, Drowsy sail-cloth of your skin, Gossamer rain, Zany Butterflies, Pastry Roofs and Nicotine Grass.’ These are just a few examples of the arresting imagery which runs through this poetry collection. Some of the poems are as delicate as the ‘gossamer rain’ described by Gerry in the poem Sycamores.
I liked the later poems in this collection even more than the earlier ones, although I do not know whether this was because they carried more depth of feeling or because by the time I reached them I was more accustomed to and in tune with the poet’s tone of voice. His poem Elegy is reproduced at.
The poems Secrets and Gift, which explore the art of writing poetry, struck me as particularly interesting as the creative process is highly individual to all writers and it is always interesting to be given a glimpse at how a poet writes. In “Secrets” he refers to a poet beginning with nothing and holding it ‘until it bleeds a secret’ a metaphor I found at once eerie and beautiful. In the poem Gift he refers to the way in which poets have the gift to observe ‘tiny immensities’, a gift which Gerry McGrath certainly has.
I think that ‘Tiny Immensities’ is such a beautiful and truthful phrase that it would make a good name for this collection of poetry, better than the current title A to B, which I found slightly off-putting. I understand that the collection was called A to B as it represents a journey, yet I feel that this title does not do the work as a whole any justice. The poem A to B from which I guess the title was taken, is my least favourite poem in the entire collection. In the poem McGrath tells us about butterflies, red-backed beetles and a dead marten but ends with ‘But let me tell you about the butterflies. While I realise that this premature ending was intentional I did not like it and felt let down that the poem did not go on to tell us about the butterflies as it seemingly promised to do. It only occurred to me later that this might refer to the other poems in the collection, some of which are as vulnerable and glorious as butterflies.
Some of the poems, particularly in the latter third of the book, were not so much poems, but snapshots of incidents, told in prose as precise as poetry. This was most apparent in the poems Busy, Currency, A Milky Sunlight, Two Friends, Mint Tea, Blue Light and Basics. I liked these almost poems best of all for the simplicity and honesty with which they were laid out and the way in which they all told an entire story in a snap shot. The scarcity of the language meant that by using fewer words Gerry was actually able to say more by imbuing his words with a deeper sense of meaning.
The poem Busy portrays someone cutting the poets hair while hearing about her Grandmother’s worsening condition. The combination of the prosaic ‘hair-clippings went flying out’ with the tragic ‘age, infirmity, depression, were all getting the better of her, pulling her down’ creates a beautiful sense of pathos, which runs on through the poems in this collection. I am looking forward to hearing Gerry read from his most recent anthology “Rooster” at the local poetry group in the village library soon.