‘the terrible’ by Daniel Sluman
Nine Arches Press, 2015
Poetry Review by Grant Tarbard
Published in The Ofi Press issue 46
Daniel Sluman's first collection Absence has a weight of its own, published by Nine Arches Press was a Keatsian work full of vitallty and fragility. Now comes his second the terrible also published by Nine Arches Press who are in a bloom time creatively.
The cover is a raw eye staring ahead, a portrait of blood and bruise by Eleanor Bennett, a sculpture for the painting of words that are instantly readable and relatable and again Keatsian, involving the romantic ideal that the infinite human discourse of the reality of the two stages of existence; life and then nothing is graceful and our mortality, how it defines our existence as animals, of father and son, of past and future lovers, that we know we all have the same fate is as much a gift as a curse.
Incidentally, I showed the cover to my mother and she said: "is that a cow?"
Sluman is a poet with a disability and he deals with this not through the machinations of anger or sympathy, rather a purer human connection, for his beloved partner whom the book is dedicated, and yes with the reader too. You can feel his stomach swell and dip into the shallow of his breath behind every sentence.
The collection is divided in three, 'every window in the world slams shut,' 'the terrible' and 'further towards the stalling heart', a whole life so far and meditations on death in 62 pages.
The first poem 'human/beauty’ is an overture for the collection and tries to make sense of a person's limited time on this earth.
the first thing you taste
is the sweat & bleach
of human delivery
And on to the inevitable end:
like us all
you fall into the cold
black earth every window
in the world slams shut
In '1991-2006' Sluman reminisces about his father's blue Ford and the fantasy of what goes on behind the lights of a city. Is this a drama played out by all writers as children? When my parents used to visit friends on Canvey Island we used to pass the oil refinery’s blinking lights, I used to envision a city, Manhattan perhaps, where all manner of destinations were being reached.
the strips of empty paintwork peeling empty promises
from neon signs the city's yellow horizon
a pair of hands composing the softly -lit dreams
of businessmen in hotel rooms screwing
I want to live in a house that the line 'composing the softly-lit dreams' builds. There's a feeling of traveling throughout this book, not just physically arriving, but a Herculean search on through the twelve labours.
There's something in 'train window' that triggers thoughts of a totalitarian regime, though a tumour could be described as that.
we share this square of light
between us the cedars
in the windows deepening
into industrial lots
where wind rips itself
on razor-wire & bricks
To the coldest winter chill of the poem’s end:
that it was
& beneath the medical
adjectives the future
arrives like this
an inch from a stranger
& a life apart knowing
the last stop is the same
It appears that this train window views the past, not with distemper but with a grudging acceptance.
‘the terrible’ section deals with a life spent dealing with morphine, the need to be free from suffering and the sickness it exudes. Sluman pulls no punches in his work, this is from the sonnet ’doppelgänger’:
eyes waltzed behind morphine in the bath
& braced for the flood from the watering can
you pour with a delicacy that makes me weep
holding my flaccidness in my hands
the boiler beyond repair I wash my hair
This is both stark, a tinge of an 18th century starved artist, and bewitching as a wild visionary staring at the moon. The first poem from ‘the terrible’ section of the book only underlines the unique jewels crafted from a bare cupboard, ‘2013’:
we made ourselves for each other slowly
through summer blurred like grain
through car-windows to november
brimming with blood-blown tissues
Don’t make the mistake that this book is dwelling on gloom, not so, it’s dwelling on love and a relationship with the past that makes the poet him and it’s forward looking, travelling, wrapped in a blanket of the future and his fiancé delicately bought to life for us with such poems as the fairytale-like ‘away’:
you were the first woman whose hair didn’t melt
in my hands who sweated out the myths
the adverts slipped into your milk
I can’t help but think that those ‘peeling empty promises’ have, at least in part, been fulfilled with the piety of enchantment.
This isn’t just a collection of poetry, it is a discharge of the painfully beautiful, it colours Sluman’s work like tar coughed up from a bronchial lung, as if to say- "all of us are running down like faulty watches."
You feel the sentences move, rather like that feeling of motion conveyed by Francis Bacon's brush.
I'm struck by how much I love this book, how much sexual charge, how much inclination there is to cherish wrapped in the wretch of wounds. Sluman captures the mundane with a dream-like quality, bangs on dust bin lids and rummages through the bric-a-brac drawer and finds thoughtfulness, passion and a sensory experience like raw nerves set ajar by citrus.
Sluman writes simply but with an effect all at once eerie, insightful and sublime that'll have you savouring this book long after you've turned the last page.