Simon West, ‘The Ladder’ in Cordite

Review Short: Simon West’s The Ladder, by Nathanael Pree, 10 November 2015

In his third collection, The Ladder, Simon West presents a series of poems with the tensile strength of filigree and flower stems, split seconds where meaning occurs as a wavelet suspended above the mosaic particles that make up a beach. After my first reading, I feel sure that I have also felt sunlight glancing off the skin of a grape, tendrils curling around a wooden table leg, sunlight, wine and citrus. Meanwhile from back at the frontispiece, falls the delicate adumbration of half distinct colour from the ‘eyes turned to beautiful eyes’…

…The clarity of West’s images and the careful placing of self-objects to complement the scattered cast of personae in his work recall the aesthetics of the Deep Image poets of the 1960s. The long, reflective title ‘Outside on a Warm Evening I Consider My Confused Ideas about Poetry. For Now I Offer This Brief Account’ contains a musing on poetics that suggests both immediate open engagement and a more profound contemplation of the craft:

Some talk of depth and things as they are. Others
see layered surfaces alive with light.
Is it right to hold a tree up like a mirror
as if looking out were a way of looking in?

This spirit of enquiry is conveyed by the same conversational and candid voice in which gods and familial presences alike are addressed with an equal measure of respectful consideration and the informality employed among equals. It also offsets without attempting to conceal the parallel presence of dark and stranger undertones. Given this open mindedness, it is hardly surprising that the subconscious is also given its due. Rivers as brown snakes in which ‘hands immersed were lost’, ‘shadows under tress at night; and dreams / of falling down a gyre’ are some of the darker archetypal images that course beneath the sunlit surfaces. They serve as reminders, that for all the immanence of ‘golden words’ and new forms of life, there is also a heretic burning as ‘townsmen glow in the heat.’ To look again closely at each poem is to discover another image rising from primordial depths to take it its place alongside those more immediately visible on the planes and surfaces where these fragments of lives and their components are crystallised and composed.

Read the full review in Cordite

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