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Water Gifted

Richard Skinner, Invisible Sun, (Ripon, Smokestack Books, 2021)

Invisible Sun is a moving collection of poems about the death of the poet’s mother, or rather a collection towards that death, that passing. The finest poems are about her, with Skinner’s luminous phrasing most in its element. He stands back and gives space to the grief in short poems that focus on objects, mostly. The word that came to my mind was jade. Yes. I was thinking of the surface of jade, or perhaps the point when water loses its turbulence and becomes a mirror. The feeling is real and deep, but it is handled like the egg in the poem of the same name. ‘The egg is just a portal,/ a vehicle merely to talk/about my mother.’ There is this kind of plainness to many of the poems. There is also a wonderful juxtaposition, as in ‘The Island of Doubt,’ (from ‘Corridors and Wards’) where his phrase-making is at its best:

Are there still Cedars in Lebanon? Are there gales in Lundy? Are they drowning the

meadows? Am I standing in a stream? I can hear water. I am water gifted.

A similar dynamic is at work in a poem such as ‘The Number Poem,’ where Skinner takes us from proverbial phrases involving the number 1 all the way through 10 in such a way as to break each one open and make them germinate. I love, for instance with the number 3, how ‘Stooges’ are placed next to ‘wise men,’ or how with 8, ‘pieces of’ is next to ‘folds.’ This is not to be showy but to place opposing forces of human behaviour next to each other. The result is delight: Buddha with lucre.

The book ends with what appears to be a ‘found’ poem, ‘The Grief Directory,’ which again juxtaposes the condolences of different friends after Skinner’s mother’s death. Skinner here magpies some luminous phrases, such as ‘a mother is a very particular thing’ and ‘Anger is based on safety. Go with it.’

This is a collection that has valuable things to say about loss and its strange beauty. I’m excited to see where Richard Skinner goes next with these emotions: further into their strangeness, deeper and further in.

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