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What Anna Crowe says


Here is Anna Crowe’s review of Tonguefire in issue 2 of Sphinx (the “Common Reader” comment is a feature of the magazine):

What strikes the reader at once, reading Andrew Philip’s collection Tonguefire (with stylishly emblematic cover), is the sheer energy and power of these poems. The writing is muscular, urgent and assured, offering a wide range of forms, from the sonnet and rhyming, metrical stanzas to unrhymed free forms; and in moods ranging from everyday epiphanies to the mythic and visionary. Here are the opening lines of the first poem in the book, ‘A Rough Guide to Monday Morning’, with their crisp imperatives:

Chain your sleep to the foot of the bed,
open the morning like your birthday post…

His language is sinewy and arresting, never more so than in ‘Wandelvakanties Dicht Bij Huis’ (‘walking holidays close to home’), and uncomfortably close to home are these flashbacks of war that hit us in beautifully spare and flowing language. Here is the first walk, ‘in sight’:

We stopped in our tracks—
someone flicked on the poppies,
squinted at us down
the length of the dyke we trod, down
the long-barreled afternoon.

Philip can carry off a dramatic monologue while simultaneously bringing a painting to life, as when he lets us eavesdrop on the troubled thoughts of Mary and Joseph in ‘Diptych’, as they escape from Herod’s death squads, after Rembrandt’s The Flight into Egypt. Mary’s feelings of guilt and anguish are totally convincing and offer a fresh take on a familiar scene.

Sometimes an image falls flat, as in Joseph’s steadying the child’s head “like it’s the last nail for my coffin” (something about the scale, perhaps); or when Mary Magdalen asks in ‘Rabboni’ whether it is now “the sole imperative// to tell out at last/how much the full jar aches”—the image is truthful, the tone portentous—but these are small flaws in what is a finely-tuned collection of wide-ranging, fiercely tender, humane poems.
Anna Crowe

Common Reader says of Tonguefire: ‘A Rough Guide To Monday Morning’ was my favourite poem in this collection. The line which encourages the reader to “open the morning like your birthday post” is a very cheerful thing to do on any morning but especially a Monday

One Comment leave one →
  1. Personwhocommentsbutdoesnotblog permalink
    08/05/2006 00:51

    “Humane”, methinks, comes dangerously close to damning with faint praise…

    One-el-Philip has the occasional fortune (or misfortune, depending on your politics) to (despite himself) write human poetry. That is warts, confusion, doubts and all, but yet with the faith that what we are given is what we are given

    Philip-with-only-one-el is a human-with-no-ee poet. Deal with it!

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