Review: Like it is – Philip Lyons

Monday, 20 February 2012

In an age when poets are commenting on and discussing the voices of new and older contemporary poets here is a refreshing and accomplished voice not afraid to speak out about domestic situations and also to use rhyme shamelessly in all of his poems. Lyons speaks with a simplicity that combines the earthy detail with a compassion that matches the more philosophical nature of relationships:

No sentimental last goodbye. No tears.
So little I could say these past ten years
that didn’t make you have a fit of pique.
You won’t be anything but ash next week. (Elegy)

These lines are unsentimental and to the point but full of emotion that every human experiences from time to time.
It is through the domestic that we arrive at the political and so it is with many of Lyons’ poems.

I press a buzzer – someone lets
me in; a staircase in a block;
a flight of concrete stairs I climb
to find her waiting in a dress
too big and almost out of time. (Visiting)

The book speaks of relationships, past and present, professional and personal. Lyons refers continually to the frailty of such using twilight, grey and blue skies, the sun, wood-pigeons, rain, pollen and trees to address these issues. Weather and nature and the passing days are important in his work as they are essential elements in all our lives.

Reading lyrics can sometimes be an unrewarding affair as the reader can be led into false rhymes and clichés but that is not the case here. The rhymes work well to reinforce the content whether the words are sad, funny or reflective. Subjects and settings re-appear frequently throughout this collection.
… She took her leave with grace
and wrote these words although the truck was sealed:

”˜We left the camp singing.’

And there is a lot of singing in this book. The first poem, Aubade, begins and ends with the line:
There is a moment when the song begins. And there is certainly song throughout this book. There are investigations here of the key subjects that we all study: the ending of personal relationships, new ones with partners or step-children and the death of friends. Added to these are the making or trying to develop the more professional relationships with inmates from prisons, psychiatric hospitals and working with the more vulnerable people in society. These poems serve as a social commentary on today’s society without preaching to the reader. They are out social history.
So Lyons is able to map his work across the personal and professional issues of his life which also touch many of our lives and he never fails but to engage his reader in a mixture of rhyme or humour or pathos.

Review by Wendy French
Wendy French won first prize in the inaugural Hippocrates Prize Poetry Competition in 2010 (NHS category). Her most recent collection surely you know this was published by tall lighthouse in 2009.