Near Myths by Giles Goodland (review)

I just started reading Giles Goodland’s excellent Near Myths, a poetry pamphlet published by Oystercatcher Press earlier in 2010. I’ve only got to about page six, but it had me captivated from the very first few lines. The first poem, ‘Myth of Ancestors’, brought to mind scenes from The Flintstones:

The Ancestors pile behind us and drive
in stone cars to deposit my father
as a sperm and watch him flail
into the ocean of possibility.

This poem could be read in many ways, but for me it cartoonishly frames a modern-day traffic jam as a rather weak going-through-the-motions of the act of migration, a spur for human development, with a nod at the primal rage of the driver: ‘In their sleep they practiced violence. / Cattle roamed freely inside the eyes’. References to TV and the ‘bookcase’ ensure that the influence of ancestors hovers somewhere between representation, on the one hand, and biological and cultural determination, on the other.

These are highly symbolic poems, imparting a sense of wholeness, yet far from being neatly tied up. At the end of each poem, I had a sense of having been moved, and of having grasped at various thematic threads, but at the same time was unable to put my finger on what exactly had been said. They seem to have the quality of unfinalisability; they are symbolically bundled, you might say, rather than unified, and gesture in multiple directions.

In ‘Myth of Night’, for example, a personification of Night comes knocking at the door. Night can be read both as an allegorical and as an everyday figure representing some actual person or event. The mode of voice is solidly descriptive, not seeking any explanation, so we are drawn to what happened, not how or why. A sentence like, ‘You feel him grip the sides of the sofa / like an undertaker’, immerses you in the action and its meaning, rather than in the identity of ‘him’.

Fittingly, for a collection concerned with myth, the poems also possess a beguiling musical quality. The incantatory rhythm of ‘Myth of Influence’ had me reading it out again and again, trying to follow the beats and work out what was driving it on. It was something I could imagine Allen Ginsberg reading out loud.

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