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Iain Bamforth – The Crossing Fee and Rob A. Mackenzie – The Good News – Scottish Review of Books
by SRB

Iain Bamforth – The Crossing Fee and Rob A. Mackenzie – The Good News

August 8, 2013 | by SRB

Iain Bamforth – The Crossing Fee

There is something terribly haunting in this new collection from Iain Bamforth. Taking the plunge from the old Germanic odyssey where a hero falling in the Black Forest emerges in the China Sea, this collection turns on the simple, elegant and yet sophisticated imagery and language that is abundant throughout. 

What other poets may only make gestures towards, Iain embraces wholeheartedly, as in the opening lines of the poem Skin Deep:

Not the skin as a vast unfolded boundary

But your inwardness on view

In the prospect of mutual understanding

These lines epitomise the strength and subtlety of Bamforth’s writing, taking the common view of a phrase, and inverting it to show us a meaning we had not considered before, and in this particular case, a new meaning which so manifestly changes how we interact with the world. This collection is a joy to read, full of so much nuance, and persuasive language, a permanent wistfulness that never strays into the twee and the constant sense of travel, of movement and growth. 

The many narrators of this collection, some identifiable with Iain, some archetypal and some never before seen take you on a meaningful journey that has to be experienced to understand it.

As Bamforth himself says in the opening lines of the collection:

I called out to you, from the root of the mountains,

Where the very earth itself is of the nature of folding

I called, out of my distress, and hoped to hear you

It is perhaps this very same calling out that all poets and all humans seek to populate their world with.


Rob A. Mackenzie – The Good News

Rob A. Mackenzie’s second collection, published by SALT, is salted, earthed, grounded in the vernacular of his modern Scotland that it not only sounds like everything I’ve ever heard, but sounds like something new as well. Mackenzie’s skill is shown most clearly in the distillation of new vocabularies from the world that he sees in front of him. 

One of the standout poems is A Scottish Cent(o)ury, where he takes lines from 100 other poems by Scottish authors and arranges them to form a single poem whose innate Scottish-ness is both derived from the borrowed lines and equally shown by Rob’s skill in weaving them into a whole. 

The section titled Autistic Variations is one that reaches out very starkly, discussing with such nearly harsh honesty the reaction of parents to having an autistic, or similarly affected child. The simple way that these feelings are handled is the mark of a poet with exquisite understanding of the power that the right word can have. For example, in this excerpt from The Tower:

Helpless, we consulted

Useless books

From our crackling tower

So accurately extemporises the way that language and words must feel in the mouths and minds of those who use them on a day-to-day basis without having to think about it. 

Rob demonstrates so many different voices, from the satirical humorist present in Tippexed Speeches on Scottish Independence through modernist, yet without descending to obscure meaning in Nocturnes to the fiercely melancholic present in The Doors.

There is such depth of alternating voices that this collection will provide nearly endless repeat readings for the eager poetry enthusiast, yet the collection carefully sidesteps the often too easy minefield of diluting the poet’s artistry. This collection balances near perfectly between these two sides and, this is undeniably one of the strengths of Rob Mackenzie.


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