I recently ordered another Happenstance publication this time by the Scottish poet Andrew Philip. His chapbook Tonguefire is actually sold out on the website but Happenstance have brought out a sampler pamphlet of his poems which I ordered from the poet himself. The pamphlet contains nine pages worth of poems, five of which are devoted to his long poem, and title of his chapbook, Tonguefire.
Tonguefire is a rather strange and image-rich poem with a prophetic, almost visionary, feel to it. The poem takes us into the world of a guy named MacAdam, which I guess is a kind of universal man i.e son of Adam. He’s the kind of man who ‘buys firelighters and matches / cheap beer and lifestyle magazines’, who ‘…sits alone / in the dark with a single malt’ but who mysteriously finds in his compost heap ‘a baby made of glass’ and on his door step ‘a small, delicate book of songs / bound in white heather’, ‘MacAdam swallows the book of songs’. I enjoy the interchange of the odd scots word which appears throughout, for example where MacAdam holds the ‘bairn / in his guddle of arms’. I’m not entirely sure of the meaning of the poem, I’m guessing it has several meanings. The achievement here, for me, is the successful bringing together of the very ordinary with something very extraordinary, other-worldly.
The rest of the pamphlet consists of six further poems, heart-breakingly, about the loss of the poet's first-born son which, in all honesty, I find hard to read because of their subject-matter. In saying that, I’m very impressed with the level of control with which they are written and which makes them the powerful and hard-hitting poems that they are - ‘this is the hand that cradled your cold feet’ (Lullaby), ‘one was gone from us / and one had not yet come to us’ (Dream Family Holiday).
These poems are unlike most of the poems I read these days, there is something very different and at times uncomfortable about them which certainly makes them stand out and difficult to forget. All-in-all these are beautifully written, down-to-earth yet evocative of something supernatural.