Troy Town
1. A turf labyrinth, constructed for unknown, possibly ritual, purposes
2. A state of pleasant confusion.

Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Sphinx review

Making The Most Of The Light is like a box of fragments from an age gone by, or a collection of old photos found in the attic. Giving the impression that it has developed from a larger narrative – the poet’s life – the pamphlet leaves the specifics of underlying events tantalizingly vague and intangible. A relationship begins and ends, a loved one dies prematurely and Merritt gets older. We are taken

…face to face with the machine
that flashes constellations
of trembling point sources
in patterns that must mean something.

Never seeing enough to form a full picture, the reader tries to reassemble snapshots of the past in a way that makes sense. It’s a little like a detective novel, and part of the fun is putting the pieces together.

Significant figures are almost exclusively identified by the pronouns “I” / “You” or “He” / “She”, creating the interpretative leeway for different characters to blend into each other (or perhaps separate into more selves than there actually were). The poems are also very varied. Gaps in subject, time, perspective, content, focus and mood separate them. Like a comic book, the reader has to imagine the blanks. This all sounds very sombre – it isn’t, not all the time. Granted, a number of poems brood on age and death, but the divide is probably half-and-half with love and humour. Often light in tone, the author obviously revels in playing on, and reviving, cliché.

Although individual poems are strong (Vocabulary and Snow, Predicted were two of this reader’s favourites), the pamphlet is especially impressive as a collection. Webs of meaning stretch from piece to piece, until even the most simple turns of phrase resonate with significance. Extended metaphors interchanging light with life, for example, render strikingly beautiful “Your face had caught the sun, so I sipped…” (I’m Your Man). The penultimate Cooking Jambalaya In Corporation Road (a fantastic, nostalgia-laden recipe poem) might be taken as a manifesto for the work.

Variety really is the spice here –
using a little of whatever you’ve got.
OK, so back on the bayou, it might be

alligator or duck, but let’s assume
your weekly shop is at the Co-op.

Making The Most Of The Light transforms homely ingredients into fine poetry. “All it needs is time, a little gentle turning.”
Chris Beaton

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