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Desire Paths by Andrew Martin (Shoals of Starlings Press)

Desire Paths by Andrew Martin (Shoals of Starlings Press)

Andrew Martin’s new collection is from the pen of a modern lyricist who tips his cap to John Clare and Edward Thomas while having a thoroughly  contemporary take on things. While ostensibly about the natural world his work is imbued with deep feeling and a sensitivity which verges on the vulnerable. His use of imagery has a minimalist precision and combines an aesthetic beauty with an approach to the world which contrasts the internal with the external in a manner that is fresh and approachable. The reader is constantly surprised and challenged into seeing the world anew and perhaps into rethinking preconceived positions. Martin also designed the cover art and book layout and he has a real flair for typography.

          walking the worn edge

          I’ve unseen things

          you believed in

          doves on fire

          wings shredding

          in the belly of Betelgeuse

          I’ve heard waves

          shadow-shimmer in daylight

          far from the desire paths

          all those memories

          will be found again

          out of time

          rain that remembers

          the crying

          drenched in dawn

There are hints here towards the lyrical passages in the film Bladerunner, a submerged S/F element which appears elsewhere in his work, while the phrase ‘desire paths’ itself refers back to the prefacing (untitled) poem which views the artistic aim as a combination of mini-Homeric exploration fused with a sense of evolutionary mission. This is heart meets head in an almost quivering tension which  an attentive reader can feel wonderfully immersed in.

     From ‘there is a hole in a tree’ we get the following:

          if I  curl inside

          would this tree

          take this man

          tired of being a man

          turn me to the soft stone

          of old sunlight

          let the dark lightning

          of new antlers

          take root into sky

This is writing which is imbued with longing and which gives a fresh take on the  pantheistic tradition while combining dramatic imagery with an underlying sense of melancholy. From what I understand these poems came about as a result of a particular set of walks which engendered the thoughts and feelings herein. There is  an overall immersion in the environment which creates a mood but not at the expense  of thought and a certain ‘distancing’ which I think relates to the precision and unusual aspects of the imagery.

          sometimes the world is so gentle

          sunset sits upon park benches

          reveals old rivers

          ribboning through the grain

          shadows pool in a paw print

          a cat whispers the piano

          pads across its keys

          breeze lifts the leaves a little

          fingers become feathers

          holding hands

          a form of flight

          skim long grass

          filaments lit low

          shadows stretch towards me

          sparrows shiver cowbells

          in their chests

          church bells

          touched by the late light

          train lines sing

          the miles between us

This is a love song to the world as well as, perhaps, to an individual. I’m not always persuaded by ‘soft lyricism’ these days and it’s hard to achieve in a modern context  but these poems are both intoxicating and immersive, even where, as there is on  occasion, a suggestion of a darker side. From ‘sea glass’ we get: ‘each step / blunts our blades / shatters our rage / the little lashes / that scar us smooth.’ Again we get an immersion in the environment, almost a shape-shift between the human and the environment, a tension between calm and beauty and something more dangerous and hurtful to the vulnerable. These poems work on you upon re-reading and their world is  one which it’s hard to ignore. Martin’s debut collection, Shoals of Starlings (Waterhare Press), is a masterpiece in my view and one of the best poetry books to have come from the Plymouth scene in a long time.

 Steve Spence 5th January 2022

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