Review: Where The Road Runs Out, by Gaia Holmes, Part 2: The 7 Reasons
November 19, 2018
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It was always my intention with my earlier review of Gaia Holmes’s third poetry collection that I would need to revisit it, as the appreciation of the poetry developed in my mind.
When I posted the link to the earlier review on Facebook, I said I could think of at least 7 reasons to buy the collection. Michael Stewart has since asked what the 7 reasons are. Some of those in the following list have already been touched on in the previous review.
- It represents a much better treatment of poetry
based on place than one is used to seeing.
Furthermore, the place in question is part of Scotland, which I regard
as notorious, along with Yorkshire and the Lake District, for prompting
mediocre poetry of place. Holmes has not
allowed the location to put her technique off balance. Too many stanzas in poems of place might as
well be struck out and replaced by the words, ‘It was amazing. You should have been there.’ This criticism does not apply to any of the poems
in WTRRO. Holmes at all times applies
the same craft to conveying the location as to any other subject.
- The cover, by Hondartza Fraga, is a masterpiece,
which suits the content of the book, perfectly.
- The treatment of the subject of dying, which is dealt
with honestly and sensitively, but without sentimentality. Holmes gives the feelings related to dying a
personal identity, which is vitally important.
Feelings about death are useless if they are impersonal. If I want to gain insight into how it feels
to have a parent who is dying, then I want to read the impressions of another,
real person: I want to know how you feel, to give me a bearing on how I might feel.
Anything which attempts abstraction is
going to sound like a Hallmark sympathy card and be, at best, cloying, and at
- Even if you take away the body of poems of place,
and poems about dying, there is a substantial range of other subjects. The breadth and balance of subject matter is
one of the collection’s outstanding features.
I am not going to try to convey this in a review: if you want to
appreciate it, buy the book.
- It is yet another Holmesian masterclass in how
to build the treatment of complex ideas out of the details of everyday
life. I am not merely repeating item 3:
Holmes does this throughout.
- The sheer skill and ingenuity in the use of
language. When a poet reaches the stage
of publishing a third collection, and when the blurbs on the back are written
by Sara Maitland and Helen Mort, it is easy to overlook how the poet does the
simple things. In spite of the fact that
Holmes generally uses a wider range of vocabulary than I do, there are pieces
in which she produces something quite remarkable out of next to nothing. An example of this is ‘Leaves’.
There are about 60 poems in the collection. As I read them, they affect me in a variety
of ways. Not one of them has made me
say, ‘What the hell was that about?’