Guest Review: Loveday On Lovelock-Burke

Mike Loveday reviews
by Helen Lovelock-Burke

The poems in Lovelock-Burke’s debut collection Dayship are the kind of poems for which people first fall in love with poetry. The landscapes are the poetry landscapes we know and cherish: apple trees, thicket hedges, farmland, the oceans and tides, dreams, the changes of days and sunlight, memories of loved ones, silence and shadow, stars and clouds, frosts and winds. And they are invested with a mixture of nostalgia, celebration, regret and hope.

What makes Lovelock-Burke’s work particularly delightful is the deceptive way in which words are put together strangely, yet so simply that you hardly notice that strangeness. The poet twists traditional syntax and vocabulary just enough to make the words start sparking against each other.  We are in familiar territory but the poet is keeping us on our toes:

“We curve the land and sky
over this one black
winter thorn and thicket hedge.

Bend into us, bury yourself
in fragile, almost not
scent of dwelling.”
(Clouds on the Blackthorn, p.21)

“Beyond the this-i-see
rest all the hours
when cowslips glowed
white in the moonlight”
(By the Window, p.73)

Wish was a non-word
like the or black.
The did not need
to be
not saying anything
it was nothing.”
(The Time Before, p.50)

The title of the book – Dayship - is a perfect example of the poet’s style. The word feels entirely right and natural, yet it doesn’t exist in the English language. Its naturalness echoes the terms of the known world, yet it somehow conjures interesting associations beyond that. It is possible to hear within it the learned qualities of a skill or trade in existing through the days – dayship becomes like musicianship, or apprenticeship. Yet it also suggests being carried by days, or describes a vessel carrying them – a ship of days. This is the kind of quiet, measured gesture that runs right through Lovelock-Burke’s poetry.

The collection is balanced poignantly between losses and gains, but the poet’s love of language, the careful and tender handling of words, is what stays with the reader. The diction of the short lines contains echoes of Emily Dickinson, and the themes of the poems – searching for connection and wholeness, a fragile, doubting spirit, the acute awareness of transience – call to mind Edward Thomas.

Helen Lovelock-Burke uses a life’s wisdom to infuse her descriptions with a kind of serene restlessness, as moods and scenes shift, and certainties slip away.

“Snow is a music
on trees and lane
but we are too old.”
(Early Morning Snow, p.59)

“even as the second open
minutes start to count
get thin and tight so they can fold
tidy, into clocks.”
(Clocks, p.34)

Mike Loveday is a poet, poetry editor, and is completing an MFA at Kingston University.