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Steve Spence

“Between So Many Words” by Ric Hool, pub. Red Squirrel Press, £10.00

I’ve submerged myself in this excellent poetry over the past few days. Hool’s material is ‘essentially’ about the relation between people and landscape, a psychological exploration which is rich in so many ways. ‘Water’ is a recurring motif but there is also a section on ‘Jazz Rock’ (or rather on the late bass player Jaco Pastorius) and on modern art via a chapter on the painter Tamara De Lempicka. The final section relates mainly to the poet’s friendship with Chris Torrance, another somewhat disregarded British poet living in Wales whose work should be much more widely appreciated than it is.

There’s often an anxiety underlying these poems which sometimes seems to emerge from the hard reality which comes from a depiction of people working in tough conditions – the ‘fishing’ poem ‘Putcher’, for example – but there’s also a celebration of the environment even where tempered by cautious respect. In ‘Towards Sleep’ this encapsulation in the final stanza is exact and succinct:

          Room temperature drops and covers pulled up
          against sleep’s jury. Weather attacks windows.
          History & future an undergrowth of restlessness.

Section 2 is entitled ‘La Gomera Poems’, La Gomera being the smallest of the Canary Islands and obviously a place Hool has a fond relationship with.  Hool’s writing here is physical and dreamy yet thoughtful and focussed if that doesn’t seem like an impossible contradiction. In the wonderfully titled ‘Thought as a River Through Air’, for example, we get this:

          Tired lovers lean into each other not saying
          much, listening to the low tones of radio,
          tyres and engine composing; hearing what they think
          is silence easing them down to the small town
          itself near but not yet asleep. They permit me

          to join them, these deep-drinking dreamers, and
          allow me to imagine with them along alleys
          and backstreets that criss-cross the mind
          making so many corners of tiredness, making
          thinking as much a travelling as a construction.

His ability to merge the physical, via sensual imagery and a sense of colour –
he’s a very ‘painterly’ poet – with a more cerebral approach, is well-evolved and makes these poems so readable on a variety of levels, they are far more than one-dimensional sketches of time and place.

In ‘Jaco 4’ we experience minimalism, punning and an exploration of musical sound through colour and visual evocation:

          Pastorius, unlike a shepherd,
          scatters notes over a score,
          opening music’s pen, exploding
          captives to the landscape,
          the escape-scape, colours mixing
          then resting in fusion.

In fact, these mainly succinct poems relating to the music of Pastorius, are filled with quietly arresting phrases and encapsulations – ‘Together, you and those / bright notes, all too brief’.

The poems in the section dealing with Hool’s friendship with Chris Torrance are filled with water imagery and ‘nature notations’ and include some wonderful descriptions, none better than in the poem ‘The Great Invasion (Winter storms 2013 / 2014)’ where we get this – ‘The drowned ground gurgles water from a dead mouth / and uncountable lifeless burrowers / inherit the earth.’ It’s not exactly ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ but Hool manages to capture something of the potential moody bleakness of the environment and its effect on the psyche allied to a delight in the power of language to evoke and also to express thinking. These are poems where the whole body, including of course, the mind, are open to experience and to the landscape.

The penultimate poem ‘Boot Hill’ deals with climate change probably but also hints at a widening political disorder via a meander down the rabbit hole as this extract seems to suggest :

          It’s hot, getting hotter, paradoxically
          cooler & getting colder. The corpse lies
          with a gun in hand & bullet in heart.
          Gunslingers get dropped one by one
          but more come, and more come.
          Common sense holds hands with Alice
          as she dives down a rabbit hole.

          Gunshots ricochet off rainforest
          Puncturing the green lung whilst German
          e-mail tallies to conglomerate accounts.

          Chip is church, its congregation legion.
          Common sense is somewhere as lights go out,
          as screens go black as Alice blinks in the rabbit hole.

The final poem ‘Again and Once More’ is open-field and minimal, of the moment and yet reassuring in its suggestion of repetition and familiarity with place, even where this implies an acceptance and acknowledgment of the inevitability of change:

          Knowing               how many times


                                                    of being


                                                              just here

There’s much more here to engage with here  but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. If you’ve not come across Ric Hool’s work before this is a good place to start.






Copyright © Steve Spence, 2017