The petals gleam the utter blue
of the welder’s flame[.] ‘The Dockyard’
Oh, the succinct and perfect use of ‘utter’ here to convey the blueness of that flame! What better word to use? Lines such as this continue to resonate long after reading John Glenday’s fourth collection of poetry, The Golden Mean.
‘The Dockyard’ works as an illustrative example of the whole collection. Careful attention is given to each word and their placing: the delicate form of the flower is aligned with something as anomolous as a welder’s torch; the prosaic is given the same weight as the pastoral. Butterflies head towards hills. Their journey bears equal witness to the dual carriageway and corner shops. All is described without judgement.
This is not to say that the collection is easy to pin down. Diverse in rhythm, structure and subject, these poems initially defy capture. A poem in Viking ballad-metre (‘The Lost Boy’) is sandwiched between a dense paragraph of youthful yearning (‘A Testament’), and a ballad voiced by a soldier on the eve of the battle of the Somme (‘The Big Push’). And yet, their composite parts touch on shared themes: transience; what it is to be alive; simultaneous pain and beauty in human experience. All is conveyed in the most measured of language. Perhaps this is the ‘golden mean’, that perfect balance of elements, to which the title alludes?
A stone and heart are compared in ‘The White Stone’. Both ‘weigh smooth and hard and cold’. However, the last lines,
before it was first
touched by the world[,]
force the reader to circle back and re-imagine that initial comparison. The world changes the surface of the heart but, without its touch, the heart would remain forever cold....