The Brink by Jacob Polley

Published by Picador Poetry, 7.99

Review by Cameron Self

The first thing that strikes you about The Brink, is that it does not employ the ironic conversational tone favoured  by so many of the today's new poets. Instead it sticks  firmly to the tried and tested descriptive tone popularised by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

In fact, the poems have a reassuring Anglo-Saxon feel to them. Polley makes use of consonance, alliteration and assonance -  not to mention some breathtaking similes. In Fish we are told: 'the eels on the fields in the rain, coupling and uncoupling, like iron escaped from a blacksmith's bucket;'. Or in The Boast we have the rather stunning description of a crow in a snowy landscape: ' spilling its wings from its own inkstand and trickling into the distance'.

Polley's subject matter is birds, fish (cooked and otherwise), landscapes, snow (2 poems), the sea and his father. Obviously we are again firmly in the world of Ted Hughes - but what I like about Polley's poetry is that he is not afraid to include 'unpoetic' elements into his work. In First Light, for example we have  'the new couch, wrapped in plastic',  in The Kingdom of Sediment 'bicycle spokes and ragged tins' in the bed of a remembered stream and in Crabbing 'beer bottles scrape the harbour wall'.

In his poem Singing School  Seamus Heaney tells us that 'Description is revelation' and in the hands of the Irish master it often is. Polley is fortunate to share this knack for most of the time. If there is a criticism of The Brink -  and to be frank it's quite hard to find one - it is that some of the poems fail to make the jump from description to revelation. In Crabbing for example, which is a fine evocative piece about fishing for crabs in the harbour, the  final ' tip them out, count them and kick them back into the sea '  is a little disappointing.  In his poem The Snag Polley may even hint at this particular shortcoming in his work  when he writes: ' What's my point? It falls short like the sighting of dead stars' .

For once, then, you can take the blurb on the dust jacket at face value. Polley does indeed possess  a 'remarkably mature talent' - especially since he is still in his twenties. However, it will be interesting to see, when he emerges more fully from the shadow of Hughes and Heaney, whether his poetry improves or deteriorates? If it improves, then we are certainly all in for a treat.

9/10

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