A third collection of poems from Peter Walker exploring the theme of spirituality both inside and outside the Church in Wales - how it sometimes clashes with, and sometimes expands, what we think of as 'religious', and how our sense of place can affect our perceptions and tasks.
Trydydd casgliad o gerddi'r offeiriad Anglicanaidd Peter Walker, sy'n archwilio thema ysbrydolrwydd oddi fewn ac oddi allan i'r Eglwys yng Nghymru - y modd y mae weithiau'n gwrthdaro yn erbyn ac weithiau'n ymestyn yr hyn a olygwn wrth fod yn 'ysbrydol', a'r modd y gall ymdeimlad o le effeithio ar ein canfyddiadau a'n gwaith.
Most writers’ ‘day jobs’ are more or less irrelevant to their creative output, but Peter Walker’s third poetry collection orbits his occupation (he is an Anglican priest) at every turn. Indeed, his title poem, and the one that appears first in the collection, ‘Listening to Zappa’, takes us into literal holy terrain as we enter the strangely oxymoronic ‘sob-silent chapel’. It’s a fascinating book and Walker utilises many of his verses to attempt to tease out the point at which science and religion coincide. The first instance of this thematic concern is ‘The God Particle’, which explores the Christian view of the search for the Higgs Boson. Walker’s quietly unnerving poem is an emotional response to the Pandora’s box of contemporary human enterprise. His meditation on the ‘subatomic wreckage/of our prayers’ is discomforting and links perfectly to the poem’s cousin, ‘The Down’s Mouse’. The latter is a more explicitly aggressive piece inspired by morally bankrupt experiments being carried out in science laboratories. The poem is bold, controversial and poignant:
‘the other mice would turn away embarrassed
-there but for the grace of God…
Or commiserate with the tearful, mousy parents
Or blame –
-God, demons, fate or seed
- the time of the month or the phases of the moon
They gave her to the rutting bull
& salivated over the mouse pornography
To see if planted pollen would form
Another broken life’
As aforementioned, Walker’s poetic radar is attuned to the hinge at which the burgeoning worship of science threatens to obliterate human empathy. His ‘horned technicians’ here become torturous demons, ignoring the sufferings of the mice. The result is incredibly moving. ‘The Lies the Honey Bees Tell’ works a similar seam, centring on the ramifications of pesticides on the bee population, and more worryingly still, the ramifications of a collapsed bee population on everything else in the eco-system. Again, our reverence for science is challenged.
Walker gets political too and provides a mournful invective against commercialisation in ‘Village Post Office’, a love-letter to the ‘heart of the community’. It’s evident that the poet is not shy of tackling weighty subjects and he does so in a considered but impassioned way – the reader is with him at each step. Mostly, this is due to Walker’s talent for balancing polemic alongside human frailty and he’s incredibly relatable as a narrator. He’s no buttoned-up vicar, that’s for sure! ‘That is what God is like’ and ‘Tree Climbing’ both contain enough colourful language (‘this is what God is like -/he is a slippery bastard’) to put paid to any preconceptions of priestly condescension. His verse is matey, and warm.
He also has a fantastic sense of rhythm and conceptual fluidity, as can be demonstrated in his beautiful poem ‘Buddhata’ which sees the wave’s ‘fluid fingers curled/back on themselves/to touch the salty flesh/of its own being.’ Equally, I am enamoured with ‘A Journey’ which reads, ‘we followed the star/in the planished bloom of the sheet-metal sky/caught between/the ghost-black smoke of cloud/& the shadowed ridges of eagle-haunts…’ and ends with a ‘soupy sea of plankton stars/that fill infinity to bursting-point/with chances of epiphanies’. It’s enough to make you sigh audibly!
This book is as comforting as a mug of sweet tea on a winter’s day, but also has a strong resolve on ethical and community issues. It’s a volume that embodies the qualities of strength and contemplation that you would expect of a man of the cloth.
Jemma L. King
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.