'There was an angel inside me today' is the first vivid line to hit you from this splendid selection of Nick White's poetry. Was he referring to his Muse? If so, she is alive and well in there, and functioning in top form.
Nick has a wonderful gift for powerful, informing metaphor and images that summon up worlds, sensations, states of mind and narratives that are almost tactile. This is visual, emotional, communicative poetry; it tells you about experiences that are deeply significant to the author, but manages to dodge all deeply-felt but well-worn language that's so frequently employed in such describing. Samuel Johnson complained of this very thing, declaring, 'We have seen white-robed innocence before!' It's truly difficult to find new ways of telling about universal experience without being merely catchy, gimmicky, pointlessly offensive or igniting just one more flash in the pan, but I feel Nick White somehow manages it. He draws on mythical imagery, for example, to tell about the bonding in love and does it with a journey upwards that failed, like Icarus, and ends with an image of pure beauty shared in, of all places, Hades. Or take the poem whose name supplies the book's brilliant title, an account of the inner and outer experience of medical treatment administered without consent. Here is a finely-crafted little gem that opens a wide window into a painful and emotionally complex reality. We are moved and involved, sensing the conflict of necessity and real desire (what should actually be done?) that crystallises in the irony of the superb line 'I learned that my behaviour was linked to my rights.'
Nick's sense of narrative enables him to bring a whole, strong story within the compass of a single, short poem. His images hit on the senses: you see, you hear, you feel, you use them to create your own stories with their own meaning. 'Island Of The Eighth Sea' (a title which is almost a saga in itself) tells of princess Kate, who escapes 'a land made of stone' to the very strange island (you'd never guess why it's strange) where she remains. Many images rush together and provoke many emotions; you wonder what it's actually about, and find yourself creating, exploring the minds of the characters, building a meaning. And you do so because you're so moved and intrigued: you see the narrative of the poem vividly, then wait for a meaning to catch up with it. Or take 'Hardly Harmony', a mad, clever, cascading sequence of escalating events and splendid chaos that somehow keeps a sympathetic focus on a single, sad figure who we easily forget among the brilliant mayhem - and sorry, no spoilers.
Sometimes the image, the scene, creates a shiver of delight in its mysterious immensity, as when the stars watch each other in 'Promise' (this one is both huge and brief), or a concept provokes an 'Oh gosh!' by its vast, clever simplicity, as in 'Time Machine'.
And then there's Nick's deep reserves of empathy, a sympathetic understanding of the dark corners of life. He avoids morbid cliche and sentimentality, but nonetheless leaves you feeling that you'd trust him with your pain-story, that he'd understand and listen. 'The Witches' shows that he knows about your vulnerabity and betrayal by the world, 'Blurb' displays the mental sraight-jacket of media control, 'Disappointed' chronicles the crushing effect of religion misused.
But lots of hope too. This is where the collection begins, with the empowering realisation of 'An Angel In Me'. Faith soars up laughing in 'The Storyteller Of Storytellers' and looks for unexpected hope in 'A Stolen Simile'. And there's just plain fun, like 'Jelly-Shaped Hole'.
Do you like stories? There's plenty here.
Do you want to feel you're not alone? The book will do that.
Do you love words and images and thrill when they're strung together well? This is for you.
Are you a visual thinker? Feast your mind.
Aren't you a visual thinker? You might become one.
Do you want to meet with a lively, original, idea-crammed mind? What are you waiting for?
(reviewed the day of purchase)