Small Humours Of Daylight, by Tom Weston (Steele Roberts)

 Tom Weston’s poems are remarkable for their careful way of looking, a kind of observation where the observer is a necessary but seemingly incidental presence. You notice, reading these poems, how seldom the personal pronoun “I” intrudes.

Sometimes it’s simply omitted, as in “The fertile everywhere”. “Three girls stand under the circular tree,” this poem begins (recalling, perhaps, T.S. Eliot’s “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper tree”). The perspective of the poem is undefined – it seems to merge with that of the three girls (“There is nothing surprising to them. / Every slowness has occurred already, / every departure”), but the diction and syntax suggest someone other. The poet himself, perhaps, who dwells on what is observed (“What needs to be understood about the earth / (growing puddles in the rain) is that the whole sea / has come ashore for this”).

I wanted to see more of this speaker, who is implicit in the selection of image and noun and verb, the reading of objects. These poems ponder islands – the islands of Polynesia, and of the Mediterranean – and they draw on the wistfulness of small places isolated by vast expanses of water, the slowness with which time moves in days unpunctuated by event. Weston’s lines have an unshowy precision, the effects of which are cumulative rather than local. What might in a brief quotation appear flat swells into something more evocative and moving over a whole poem, or group of poems.

Hugh Roberts described Weston’s poetry in the Listener as “a visceral experience that I can’t fully explain”. That seems to me well put, though I’m not sure about “visceral”. The poems move the reader towards a complex of feeling for which it’s hard to find a name. The best poems here patiently build an image, without nudging that image into an explicit significance: instead the image suggests an emotion by way of (to quote Eliot again) an objective correlative. This emotion, though, is evoked within an overall atmosphere of restraint, the thing not said but hinted at obliquely. The negligible presence of a speaker locates the emotion in a kind of limbo between image and reader, which occasionally gives the poems, despite their concreteness of observation, a sense of disembodiment or abstraction.

This is Tom Weston’s fifth book, and he should be better known. There is a lot of poetry being published in New Zealand at present, and unfortunately in a crowd it’s the loudest voices that dominate. Weston’s voice is quiet, but distinctive: these are poems that deserve to be heard.

Christchurch Press

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Tim Tweets