One of the best things about Brighton's poetry scene is Ros Barber for whom the adjective feisty was invented. She's a professional poet of outstanding calibre and a teacher of rare insight. Her first collection published in 2004 was the intriguingly titled `How Things Are on Thursday' which included the beautiful sonnet series `Embassy Court' and the wonderful poem `Surfers at Sennen':
`I want to unzip them from their seal-skins, peel them/
like bananas. Pull the rubber from their buttocks.'
`Material', builds on the success of her first with what I felt were (generally) more serious and more mature poems arranged in a series of sets: Material, Driving without Lights, Flesh and Blood, Missing and Test Series. Few match Barber's dexterity and sensibility when it comes to commissioned pieces. Flesh and Blood was a commission for Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and some of the most immediately appealing poems here were part of a commission from Canterbury City Council for the Seaside Sonnets project for Herne Bay, including the sure-to-be-classic `How to Leave the World that Worships Should':
`Let faxes butter-curl on dusty shelves./
Let junk mail build its castles in the hush/
Of other people's halls. Let deadlines burst/
And flash like glorious fireworks somewhere else.'
The superb `Test Series' is a homage to some of the senior men in the poet's life and includes `Corridor of Uncertainty':
`only after years of this/
did I feel how similar we were,/
forged in the nights I sobbed to sleep/
when no-one came to tuck me in.'
The corridor of uncertainty is a cricketing term meaning a notional narrow area just outside a batsman's off stump. It supplies what T. S. Eliot would have called an `objective correlative', an appropriate vehicle for the poem's emotion. In fact it seems to me that Ros explores a corridor of uncertainty in almost all the poems here - uncertainty of parenting, of childhood love, of understanding, of wife or husband. This corridor can be a lonely and painful place. It's certainly full of grief and shadow. It's a tribute to Barber's skill that the poems never ever droop towards the mawkish or sentimental. As you'd expect of a trained biologist and programmer, there's a steady scientific nerve engaged in Barber's work, much like the father she recalls in `Corridor':
Why are you crying? My father said./
He wanted to know. He worked in specifics;/
a scientist, a man of quantum/
cause and effect, of splitting matter/
to its smallest particles to get at/
the essence of it.
This `Material' rates a highly commended - an ideal Christmas gift for poetry lovers and a collection of memorable poems to return to time and again.