Waterman dips into his past

Tonight the Summer’s Over
Rory Waterman
Carcanet £9.95

Born in Belfast and brought up in Lincolnshire, this aspect of poet Rory Waterman’s past comes to light in his interesting first collection of poems.

The opening poems step out confidently and make their presence felt in that territory just below the conscious mind where we might not be sure of the significance of what is happening but know that it is something offered from deeper memory and observation.

In ‘Family Business’, which contains the line giving the collection its title, a father and daughter — as grumpy as each other — operate a seasonal boathire on a lake and as the first autumn rain comes it is time to batten down the hatches. The narrative is no more than that but the effect is much greater. Waterman gives us enough glimpses to catch their insular world: “They load a battered Land Rover with cash tin, radio, stools, as fast as they can, for it’s raining harder. Lightning blanks the dark, and then they’re away, the wiper thwacking its arc.”

What characters have to sustain themselves in this and other poems is meagre enough.

‘West Summerdale Ave’ is a picture of suburban America with a sprinkler system keeping a lawn green, a lazing cat and a passing ice-cream van. But the second verse pulls the rug from under this pastoral scene, telling us that such homes aren’t built to last, are easily reduced to nothing and replaced with something new.

The poem that follows is back in England where his eye is drawn to the single remaining brick gate post of where was once a lodge-house to an estate. What gives this one its strength is the sustained attention given to a single, surviving, redundant thing. By just picking his words with an almost scientific exactitude he makes a poem that is almost meditative and unforced.

The sense of this one is echoed in a later poem, ‘The Fields over Winceby Battlefield’, which ends with the line, “The earth doesn’t know what it’s known”.

Given this atmosphere of moments lost in time and people holding on to stray memories, it is perhaps inevitable that the poet should end up in a bric-a-brac shop. Among the junk and bits and pieces he gives us the line, “Vague familial discarded worlds that died and hide in us”.

And so to the autobiographical centrepiece of the book, ‘Growing Pains’, which tell us how this poet, now 33, was born in Belfast of an Irish dad and English mum who split up, and he was brought up largely in Lincolnshire with his mother, with access visits from his father. The first part of this short series of poems brings us into the middle of a family law court from the vantage point of the child: “Who deserves you most? Who’s the best at cuddling you and saying never mind each time you piss the bed? It’s like a test and you’re the prize, my sweet. The experts know, they’ve done their sums and read their clever books.”

It is probably better not to psychoanalyse the entire collection in the context of this autobiographical key but this section about the family split and how he came to be Irish and English does echo through many other poems where life for all its pleasures and reassurances is shaky and provisional in the end.


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