One of the highlights of this year's StAnza was the Happenstance showcase, launching the pamphlets of three young poets. Richie McCaffery has been on my poets-to-watch list for several years since we were both at Stirling Writers, but this year Theresa Munoz and Niall Campbell joined him when I heard them read in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively.
Close by Theresa Munoz
Theresa Munoz is a Canadian settled in Scotland and currently writing a doctoral thesis on Tom Leonard. Her poems are graceful and elegant, dealing with relationships, exile and estrangement, and with a keen eye for the oddities of the Scottish response to foreigners. My especial favourites are Settlement which deals with the bureaucratic insensitivities of the immigration system, and the title poem, about watching rain:
brief wet textures
It has the contrast between indoors and outdoors, the urban environment, rain and the sense of at-homeness with a loved one packed into only nine short lines. I find Theresa Munoz' use of
hard to read and follow - a disjointed and sometimes indigestible experience, a bit like eating popcorn, but in this poem they are just right.
Spinning Plates by Richie McCaffery
This collection is like a museum of curiosities for words - cilices, paregoric, tesserae, expungible - all set out carefully to display their unique and unexpected colours and gleams and tastes in the mouth as you read them. Don't let all this distract you, however, from the wide range and the intensity of the poems themselves, which deal with death, family relaationships, local history, and the significance of discarded objects.
There are some vivid and astonishing images 'bullets hitting the water/ like kingfishers' a tea-spoon 'a tiny school bell of steel/on china'.
It sounds grudging to say this pamphlet shows promise, because it's already really good, but I can't help feeling that there is more to come, that Richie McCaffery is still only trying out his wings. Watch this space.
After the Creel Fleet by Niall Campbell
Niall Campbell, on the other hand, is fully fledged and soaring away. There are some fine strong lyrical poems in this collection, dealing with his birth-place on South Uist, his marriage,the passing of time and his recent stay in France on a Robert Louis Stevenson fellowship. This very visual poetry is full of colours and conrasts, thirst and water, flood and drought, light and dark, silence and comprehension, love and death.
seeing with one eye the sack-
grain spilled on the roadway dirt,
and with the other, the scattered stars.
their chance positioning in the dark.
These pamphlets are carefull and beautifully produced with cream pages and covers, and lining inserts in rich and distinctively coloured paper. They do due credit to three very high quality collections.