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This review is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Cover of Sykkel Saga
Rory WatermanLooking at the Walls
David Van-Cauter, Mirror Lake (Arenig), £5.99;
Hilary Menos, Human Tissue (Smith Doorstop), £6;
Vicki Husband, Sykkel Saga (Mariscat) £6
What, when we turn from the news and pick up one of the many books we are locked away with, doesn’t seem tempered by current events, or riddled with dramatic ironies? When I read ‘I close the door and try to concentrate’ – the only one-line stanza in the first poem of David Van-Cauter’s Mirror Lake – I am not transported, but brought back thumpingly to a global predicament his pamphlet could not have foreseen. I turn my eyes from the page, and back to the screen.

It is hardly Van-Cauter’s fault, of course, and his poems repay closer attention. Mirror Lake is lively, sometimes light-hearted and often very moving, even when rooting around in what appears to be the author’s deep store of quotidian experiences. That opening poem, ‘Piano’, is a subtle, pitch-perfect lyric not so much about putting up with someone else’s foibles, as embracing them – so perhaps after all it does have something to teach us in our current shared moment:
Sorry, was I disturbing you?
No, no, I say. Keep playing.

I walk into the kitchen
listen to you begin
that first, inquiring hum
that softer, timid touch.  

Several of these disparate poems are concerned with the death of a partner. In these, the persistently calm warmth of Van-Cauter’s voice, and his skill at handling delays and surges of thought with line-breaks, serves to make his miniature narratives all the more affecting, as he focuses on the shoes that ‘made their way to charity ...


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