DURA Review of Chris Powici's This Weight of Light

Thursday 4 February 2016

This Weight of Light

By Chris Powici (Red Squirrel Press, 2015); pbk. £8.99: Reviewed by Robert Middlemiss

Chris Powici is a champion of Scotland’s poetry scene, being a
generous contributor to that community, not least through his free, and
highly respected Northwords Now magazine. This Weight of Light
is his latest work and second collection. Its concern for the natural
world is not too dissimilar to that of a number of his contemporaries
such as John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie. Like them, he writes and seeks
a greater understanding of the boundaries between the human and
non-human. But where Burnside’s poetics shift more toward the social and
political – consider All One Breath – Powici distinguishes his
poetics by writing his reverence for the epiphanic moment. Where
Burnside has a prominent, binding ecological thread, Powici is much more
rooted in the phenomenological. His poems glimpse the natural,
considering them in depth through immediate sensory responses. Those
images crystallise as the volume progresses.

In his attentive observations, its clear that Powici relishes
simplicity. Chance encounters are given importance but not in ways that
might alienate readers. “The Otter Goddess” places that animal in a
heightened, religious position. The poem opens, “The otter goddess won’t
hear our prayers”, immediately suggesting a failure in communication
between human and animal. The poem remains largely observatory,
congruent with the lyric mode; an almost childlike awe is articulated by
an experienced voice:

All she knows is grace –
Cool thrill of tail-flick and fur-glitter
as she surges up the green depths
to sashay on the swell.

In very few words, Powici’s verse exercises a wonderful play with
language. This example establishes the micro-looking that is evident
throughout, the ability to be patient, and revel in the world’s infinite
and yet minute beauty. Read aloud – the “sh” sounds and hyphenated
words slow the reader, demand that you too take your time to consider.

The poems do not form an overtly threaded narrative, but by the time
“May Bike Ride” is reached, there is an implicit understanding that all
the chance encounters Powici explores might too easily have passed by
unnoticed. That cyclist could well have been “screaming down the coast”.
He points out “all this gorse-bright earth” in “The Hare” and opens the
experience of feeling and seeing,

Earth on the verge of becoming water
earth you could drown in.

These encounters are only possible if you stop and observe. “Cows At
Night”, like many of these poems, is unpunctuated, reading as an
elevated, unfinished thought:

And loose mists of breath rise
halfway the height
of the whitethorn hedge
then   hang   drift
making and unmaking the world[.]

These poems demonstrate a sensory immersion with a precious world
that is to Powici too often relegated to the peripheral and easily
missed. Consider his use of spacing and enjambment – a visual tracing of
the poem’s sense, and a subtle direction to the reader.

Despite the observational quality of his work, it would do Powici a
disservice to describe his collection as doing only this. There are
moments of personal reflection which work to magnify the futility of our
human life. “Night Fishing” is written in memory of his brother, Les,
and reflects on their shared fishing trips. The poet is haunted by the
image of his brother’s shadow in “that ridiculously big angler’s
umbrella”. “Fires” closes the collection, noting a telephone call
between the two about the pastime that allowed them to remain close.

This collection’s title, This Weight of Light, and Powici’s previous volume, Somehow This Earth,
hint at an almost perpetual wonder at the surrounding world. For an
enterprise so large, the poet exercises a deft hand. That very enormity
and its jewel-like seconds, so easily missed by most, are written in
lines which reach us in a seemingly effortless state, belying their careful crafting. Powici’s writing is accessible, resonant read aloud; more importantly, This Weight of Light is a collection that is enjoyable and rewarding, and that one that merits repeated reading.

Robert Middlemiss

Chris Powici was commissed to produce a poet for the Poetrytreat exhibition at StAnza 2016

Once again we are making available on this Blog reviews of poets taking
part at StAnza. We are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University
Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their
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