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Assorted Bric-a-Brac

posted on 27 Oct 2017

Assorted Bric-a-Brac by Kevin Cowdall

This is a recently published collection of fifty poems written between 1984 and 2016 by award winning Kevin Cowdall, a well-established and prolific writer of poetry, short stories, a play and two novels. As the title suggests, ‘Assorted Bric-a-Brac’ covers a wide variety of moods, subjects and forms.  I’m not sure whether they are meant to be read in any particular order but I decided to dip in and out over a period of a few days and so give a personal impressionistic response. I find it quite difficult to write about poetry without referring directly to the original words but I’m also aware that I’m selecting extracts that ideally need to be read as part of the whole poem, so apologies to Kevin in advance.

 

The overall tone of the ones selected for this anthology from his earlier three poetry collections is predominantly romantic and deeply reflective. For example, I very much liked ‘The Photograph’ which is thoughtful, quiet and poignant as he describes that familiar flood of emotions you get when you stumble across a long forgotten old photograph. The majority of the early poems are pastoral and convey a strong love of nature and wilder landscapes. I particularly loved the atmospheric ‘Seascape at Evening’ with such powerful images of the sweeping gracefulness of the scene - so vivid that I could almost smell the salty air:

A screeching gull wheeled across the sky,

hung motionless for a moment, then swooped –

skimming the water before plucking a tit-bit

from the surface. Then it soared high, dipped its

wings once and disappeared over the rim of the cliff.

There are also plenty of poems set in the city, against the background of Liverpool and the surrounding area which is his home town. But he’s not just a home town boy and he capable of giving us splendid glimpses of places much further afield, like Venice for example.

He writes quite a lot about his own reflections on mortality and war and I found ‘War Artist’ very moving:

‘Commissioned

To sketch death

In an instant’

I read the earlier poems over a period of a week and then left a few days before reading the later ones. I really liked these because, perhaps unsurprisingly given the years between them, they felt more assured and controlled. One that I very much enjoyed was ‘Night Noises’ with the words pared right down to the bone:

 

Full moon,

Dog bark,

Milk-bottle clatter

 

 I also liked the starkness of ‘Amen’ which is the final very short poem of the collection, quoted here in its entirety  and probably not intended to be read aloud at funerals:

 

You die

You rot

You get

Forgot

 

But Cowdall is also a poet who still writes with wistful nostalgia, as in ' Blackberrying' and in contrast has a keen sense of the horrors of history as expressed in ‘After Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau’ with its vivid focus on the personal effects of those who had perished, particularly the mountain of hair:

 

‘Seven tons of human hair in one huge display:

Grey as on old death shroud or the dust of time stood still.’

 

I could have written much more about other poems in this impressive collection but I’d just be doing your job for you. So I would strongly recommend that you immerse yourself in the experience and enjoy the wide range of emotions the poetry can help you explore.

Karen Argent

October 2017

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