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True Colours, published in 1991, is written by Neil Powell born in 1948. As we learn from the preface of the book, for some time, he worked as a school teacher and as a bookseller; and now he is a freelance writer. It is possible to see the traces of his life in some of his poems, which is going to be studied in the following parts of the review. From his poems, a few points of view can be inferred such as his religion and his interest in music. However, it is not quite possible to deduce profound political or social ideologies. In his poems, we are mostly involved in his inner-self and conflicts. The poems don't stress cultural details such as behaviour, dress, or speech habits of a particular culture; but in some of his poems, he gives a great deal of details about the places where he once lived or that he likes.
As the publisher remarks at the very end of the book, "the poems begin with student life in the 1960s". These poems mostly consist of his observations and impressions of the places he used to go during his student life. And quite many of his poems written in that period have titles which bear the names of the places he describes; such as "Wickham Market, 1966", "At Berkswell" and "Wood Farm". Sometimes he describes pubs, shops, almshouses and so forth. Sometimes he prefers to portray a character in a certain place and within a certain context. For example, in "Wickham Market, 1966", he describes a boy or a man in a pub. In some of this kind of poems, he often uses a paradoxical situation whose relatedness or meaning is hard to be comprehended by the reader. For example in the same poem, he says:
"... He turns towards his friend,
Buys him a drink, and laughs, sensing the end
Of the last storm is also the beginning."
With a final paradoxical sentence, he ends his poem after articulating such ordinary words as "he buys him a drink" throughout the whole poem. And as he doesn't give the reader the necessary association and relatedness; these paradoxical phrases are inevitably thought to be just rhetorical devices put deliberately to make the poem seem so-called "artistic".
In the poems of his student life, while he is describing the places with which, somehow, he has a relation; he also frequently refers to the seasons and nature; and in these descriptions he often gives a sense of isolation, detachment and apartness as can be seen in the following lines below:
"No I am no tree. If
I were, I would have
fallen. My roots are
("Five Leaves Left", 11)
As it is remarkable in many of his poems, he has a great interest in music. For example, "A Modern Jazz Quartet" consists of four short poems with the names of four popular jazz musicians as titles such as Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington. In these poems, sometimes he is addressing to these musicians, and sometimes he is making comments on their works.
The other remarkable theme in his early sonnets, also in the late ones to some extent, is poetry itself. For example, in "A Pebble", he starts his poem with describing he motion of a tiny, trivial pebble; and then he relates it with the progress of a poem, which can be seen in the following lines:
"The poem's flow- the rock pools or the bends,
Meter or syntax, shaping its slow progress-
Becomes a formal fountain as we turn
Our private art to public artifice;"
It is also possible to see the most common theme of poetry in his poems; love. Almost all his poems about love have been written to a beloved who has left him while they have been in a relationship. These poems may be written to the wife, as he constantly emphasizes his loneliness at his home after she has left him. The most important one of his love poems is a sonnet sequence, called "For You". This sequence includes five sonnets each of which is titled with a date, most probably referring to the day when the sonnet has been written. Nearly all of the sonnets of the sequence are pointing out his solitude, loneliness, hopelessness and that how things have changed after her departure. A few lines can be given as an example to make it clearer:
"A sudden solitude reveals itself
In ill cooked meals, half-eaten;..."
(31 October 1973)
In Powell's poems; autobiographical traces are quite visible. As already pointed out, the reader can get an idea of the places where he lived or that he likes. In addition to this, it is possible get impressions belonging to certain periods of his life. For instance, in his poem "In the Distance", he first gives the sight of a classroom where one of the students is himself; and from this general description he starts to give a sight of himself suggesting that:
"What casual things define me! Clothes I wear,
Books I carry, a ballpoint on the desk
Upon a half-corrected essay: there
Is all the life I seem to have."
And later, at the very end of the poem, he goes further towards the particular and he reflects his childhood while he is writing a poem "in the distance, on a Kentish hillside".
The other remarkable theme in True Colours is friendship. He attributes some of his poems to his friend giving their names at the beginnings of the poems. For example, he attributes "Midwinter Spring" to his friend Greg. He points out the friendship issue neither universally nor conceptually; but he has a personal approach to the theme and he works the theme up through addressing to his own friends and remembering the old days.
In a great many of his poems, the themes of landscape and seascape are dominant. In these poems, he mostly prefers to give the name of the place directly in the title and then he describes the place. While he is giving the physical features of the place by imposing extraordinary adjectives on objects and often reflecting the emotional bond between the place and him. This bond is remarkable especially in "Suffolk Poems", a sequence consisting of six poems. In this sequence, it is possible to see his fascination with Suffolk, England. For instance, in the poem called "Orford"; he describes the place as "another world's end, last haven in your journey". Even from such a short line, it is possible to understand his bond with the place. As the preface of the book reveals, he is still living in Suffolk; and from the sensation in his lines; one can infer that this place has been a harbor and a shelter for him.
Throughout the book, the reader can observe a gradual change from more daily and concrete issues such as school years into more obscure, implicit and symbolic issues. The most remarkable example for this change is his second sonnet sequence, "A Cooling Universe" consisting of fifteen sonnets. In this sonnet sequence; he mainly points out the futility of life and the eternity of death and time; and we, as human beings, are enslaved to be "impelled by endless tide and currents" of life. From his point of view, mankind is in vain trying to construct a history for himself with such trivialities of life, because "our legends" are condemned to "fade" away. However, in this sequence, he starts to flow into obscurity, abstractness and to the realm of symbols; which is quite visible in some of his lines and phrases. But this obscurity should not be thought to be like symbols or free associations of symbolists such as Baudelaire. In Powell's poems, there is an artificial and pretentious intention to write a poem hard to understand. For example:
"The air reveals its ghostly intimations
Emerging in their late embodiments;
They luminously glow, then disappear
Into the order of the elements"
("A Cooling Universe, Sonnet no: 15)
These sonnets are mostly consisting of parts like this one which seems quite coherent in itself but irrelevant with the rest of the poem. That's why it is really hard to deduce a general idea form the poems.
In the last part of his book, he returns to his earlier themes such as landscape and daily issues (like describing a boy on the street...). Although he articulates these poems in a very easy and understandable way, he doesn't give up using some strange phrases with irrelevant adjectives and paradoxical statements, which is going to be studied later.
The mood of the poems is generally gloomy, sad, hopeless, lonely and as if he is missing some places and friends from the past. His solitude is quite remarkable as he constantly refers to autumn, winter and rain. His skillful descriptions of the external world are highly dominant. It is possible to regard him as a good observer since he pays attention to tiny details. That's why, he writes a lot about landscape and nature.
The poems are mostly in the first person and sometimes addressing directly to a second person often to his friends and some artists. In some of his poems, he uses "we" referring to humankind while making generalizations and when he points out the futility of life and human actions.
The source of his imagery is various. However, he mostly uses natural images referring to seasons, landscapes and certain places. As can be guessed; he uses concrete imagery but imposes abstract and personalized qualities on them such as "lineaments of autumn", "graceless rooms" and "crazy architecture". He also likes using phrases with strange associations mostly through extraordinary adjectives such as "clinging echoes", "lingering vibrations" and "ghostly intimations". In addition to this, metaphors are quite frequent. He prefers to refer to abstract ideas and concepts with concrete metaphors. For example, in the first sonnet of "A Cooling Universe"; he uses imagery the immigration of swallows "enacting comedy of generations" referring to the inevitable passing of time. Other dominant images in his poems are imageries of drama and music. For instance; again in "A Cooling Universe", while he is expressing the futility of life and the eternity of time; he uses images of drama:
"While swallows in their purposeful migrations
Enact the comedy of generations
Or else rewrite the plot; but what director
Would countenance the follies and frustrations."
And in some of his poems, he uses music imagery. For example, he suggests the changing aspect of life in terms of music by regarding it "modulations to a minor key". He uses the word music quite frequently in many of his sonnets of various themes.
Generally, he has a colloquial language but he often prefers to adorn his poems with especially oxymoronic and paradoxical phrases. But sometimes, as everybody can guess, if one uses too many ornaments unnecessarily and irrelevantly without any purpose; thing ends up with having a dull, non-sense and irritating appearance. In many of his poems, this is just the case. For example, while he is addressing to one of his friends whom he hasn't seen for a long time with a quite understandable and clear way, he suddenly remarks: "... `unprepared and rested / Is better than unrested and prepared" (Midwinter Spring). While reading the poem quite peacefully, to see such a paradoxical line which somehow gives a pretentious impression creates a sudden and short-term crisis in on-going stability.
In terms of form, it is possible to see various forms in the poems. He has long and short poems, sequences, individual ones and most importantly sonnets. It can be said that he has a great deal of experimental poems. For example he has a few individual sonnets consisting of seven couplets complete within themselves with the rhyme scheme of aa bb cc dd ee ff gg such as the poem called "Iken". He has two sonnet sequences called "A Cooling Universe" and "For You". The former one consists of fifteen Shakespearean sonnets with regular rhyme schemes. In those poems, he doesn't care meter. In this sequence, there is something quite experimental and interesting: He starts every sonnet with the last line of the former one and the sequence ends with a sonnet consisting of the last lines of former fourteen sonnets in a structurally harmonious way. The latter sequence, "For You" consists of five sonnets in the Petrarchan tradition every one of which has an octave and a sestet. And except two of them they have Petrarchan rhyme schemes such as abab cdcd ee ff gg. Most of his poems have running-on lines, no remarkable rhythm related to the theme of the poem.