ISBN 978 191097 445 2
Where The Road Runs Out is the third poetry collection by Gaia Holmes.
In one respect, this review is easy to write, because it is such an outstandingly good collection. There is Gaia Holmes’s accustomed craft, and her ability to choose a completely unexpected word or phrase, while reinforcing the meaning of a poem, and not bewildering the reader for the sake of sounding poetic. There is a secure foundation of universal themes, and a range of overlapping subjects which is very well balanced. There are lines, and stanzas, and whole poems which will give individual readers back something of themselves and their own experiences, or make them realise that they have just read an articulation of something that has been bothering them for years.
On the other hand, this review is very difficult to write, because Gaia Holmes is one of my oldest writing-related friends, and some of the pieces in this collection are ones of which I have personal, prior knowledge. I have written a companion poem to at least one of them. Even though I have not yet managed to attend any of the launch events, I have heard Gaia reading some of them, live. But those personal associations only lend additional strength to my appreciation of this collection, because the collection is so good in the first place.
The themes the book opens with are the setting of the Orkney Islands, particularly Shapinsay, and the fact that the writer’s father is dying. The subject of mortality is one that Gaia Holmes handles with a combination of honesty and acute observation. There is an unfailing courage which is completely un-self-conscious, and is the kind of courage which is manifested by facing up to one’s fears. There are details: lots and lots of important details. Gaia Holmes is a more figurative poet than I am, and so some of these details refer to things that only exist in the imagination, but they are no less important or powerful for that.
I won’t tell you what the other themes are. The collection continues beyond its starting point, which is poetic in itself. The narrative voice throughout is feminine; acutely observant; somewhat overwhelmed and put upon, but fed by her own, quiet determination. If you love contemporary poetry, then buy it. If you don’t understand or think you do not like contemporary poetry, then buy it, because it is a superb set of examples of how contemporary poetry can demonstrate artistry and craft.