Poetry Shelf Occasional Review: Chris Holdaway’s Gorse Poems

Gorse Poems, Chris Holdaway, Titus Books, 2022

As near to Hart Crane’s open bones as I am spiritually
Capable to experience. Each bridge formed by the Platonic
Form of space between pylons; an allegory
of the cave projected on a stone wall.

from ‘Sea burial’

Chris Holdaway’s debut collection Gorse Poems, is under the influence, and perhaps above the surface of gorse and the American poet Hart Crane. Gorse and poetry as spiky reading tracts. I stall on ‘gorse’ in the book’s title, and think invasive threat, eye-catching bloom, postcolonial and colonial narratives, textured realities.

The poetic fluency is made from cloud soft and mechanical spike. Ambiguity matters. Naming matters. In ‘Cirrus’, the waves are standing, and then they are shifty and hard to pin down. Poetry becomes tidal with personal bearings – and ‘tidal’ resonates as much as you like.

The poetic density resembles thickets on the page, tuned to a frequency of difficulty. If you think this, if you consider the collection as a series or accumulation of poetry thickets, then the reading paths are myriad. You push into light and you propel into dark. Smudging is inevitable. Sidetracks mandatory. Pauses essential.

Chris’s poetry delivers concentrated thickness, a thickness that sways between abstraction and physicality.

          Sit on this mountain of Eden and wonder how
Little sunrise resembles sunset. How clouds are
The ultimate test in geometry—their folding nets
The sun at different angles flat in the distance.
What bottom line for a suburban volcano; a gable
Long before any state bungalow unfurled upon
Blitzed shoulders. Nominal sovereignty—mission
-ary neologism—name badges with translations
The original never found. Crown mantle refusing
The title of extinction in a language whose empire
Makes centuries of millennia—patient castles of
Scoria by and large hillsides turned into the roads
Around hillsides.

from ‘Aucklandii’

At first I found the capital letters running down the left-hand margin resembled a wall, disconcerting, a way of displacing a poem as smooth flowing stream. But then I embraced the judderbar movement. And the capital letters nodded to different poetic traditions.

I am thinking Gorse Poems delivers the music of a present world in strife, of a past world in strife, of a future world in strife. And how we need such avenues of viewing and wondering. Gorse Poems, I am concluding provisionally, is a book of wonder, a collection of wander, a fertile undergrowth.

       I first fell in love with you tearing up
Gorse at a conservation site without permission
—a soldier away at the longest running
World War: deforestation. We’re all illicit
Gardeners I suppose. But rather than extract
This thorn from my hand I’m determined
To let it decompose inside me; choose to fill
My mouth with vinegar then suckle wounds.
Cobwebs form between my hat peak and glasses
—bridge of my nose—like art. How long will
Anatomical features stick in memory when
There’s nothing constant to trust in even
Geology so why the body? No functional diff
-erence between dense bush and landslide,—
Not enough sky to stop me turning to smoke
Alone contributing to the heat death of Earth.

from ‘Bioluminescence’

Titus Book page

Chris Holdaway co-founded both the poetry journal Minarets, and the award-winning publishing outfit Compound Press. He is the author of the chapbook HIGH-TENSION/FASHION (Greying Ghost, 2018) and his poetry has been published in various journals including Brief, Cordite, Cream City Review, Landfall, Oversound, Poetry NZ Yearbook, The Seattle Review and Shearsman Magazine.

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