Michael Laskey

poet, editor, workshop leader

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Review

Kate Bingham on 'Weighing the Present' (Poetry Review)

 

….. Laskey’s world still contains a post office, cricket fields, and reference books, all of which he continues to relish and probe in poems written with the effortless good taste that comes not just from wide reading, but from a kind of wide and generous living too. They’re short, conversational, and scrupulously unpretentious. In most, the relationship of poet to subject is the true subject. Many hinge around their middle line, unobtrusively arranged through symmetry of sound or focus, so it can’t be an accident that at the collection’s own mid-point there’s a cluster of poems about words (‘abacinate’, ‘bayonet’, ‘callipygian’, ‘February’). This is the closest Laskey comes to anything as dry as theory, with the wittily playful ‘Callipygian’ defining itself as

A thought I have often enough

– it goes without saying – but not

a word I’d ever use

to express it […]

 

[…] too clever by half for me,

calling attention to itself

when I want language transparent,

not obstructing our simply wonderful

view of such shapely buttocks.

He likes to leave his readers something to unpack and the gift of this little poem, which disarms in so many ways, turns out to be nothing less than the secret of his own creative approach.

 

Like Permission to Breathe and The Man Alone, Weighing the Present is full of the dead, who for Laskey are both dead and alive in interesting ways, popping up unexpectedly in dreams and daylight sightings and even, in ‘Deathtrap’, in the poet’s own muscle-memory, as ‘Leaning forward as I bike into town / this morning it’s George Curtis / I become for a moment’.

 

It’s not that Laskey is morbid, he merely gives the dead the attention they, no more or less than a chopping board or desk-top stapler, seem to him to deserve. For many poets, of course, this quality of attention is an entry-level requirement, but few can feel so Englishly obliged by it as Laskey, who seems happy to acknowledge certain poems, ‘Alternative’ and ‘Lap’ for example, as a reward for services provided. In ‘Visiting’

though my mind’s been elsewhere […]

eventually the flurries in the hedge

get to me

 

and, giving his attention at last, he sees not only fieldfares and redwings but also his place in their needful existence. As with all such gifts, bad things happen when it’s abused, as the collection’s pitiless opener, ‘Not That He Wrote Poems’, and ‘A Moment of Hope’ – another lingeringly horrific dream poem – show. […] the harshness of these two poems feels urgent, directed against a self the poet seems more impatiently critical of than in earlier work.

 

 

 

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