Is this a high water mark for Philip Gross? Winning the T S Eliot prize is no mean feat. And you can see why it appealed to the judges. Gross's work is well crafted, intriguing and always with that capacity to take you by surprise. If you enjoyed his last collection, 'The Egg of Zero' you'll take to this one as a duck to water.
'The Water Table' is a themed collection based around the landscapes/seascapes of the Bristol Channel (Gross now lives in Penarth). It's all about blurred boundaries. Between sea and land. Between sea and sky. And liminal places in our own reactions, attitudes and relationships. A series of vignettes, 'Betweenland' I-X, punctuate the collection, expanding the theme. There are echoes from earlier collections - 'Yalta 1945' - a concrete poem in the shape of an 'Amphora' and a final, valedictory, rhyming 'Severn Song.'
It's a subtle collection that's growing on me. It ebbs and flows, shifts, somehow doesn't quite stay still.
Not a bad little poetry collection, centring around the Severn estuary and its tidal energies and entropies, a book full of weight and movement, of slithery stuff and sticky stuff, a very tangible, tactile, oozy sort of book. Well muddy. Which puts me in mind, more often than not, of Mr Heaney, with his love of touchableness and gravity. On the downside, the poems can have an over-homogenized feel - they're all a bit too similar to each other, and Gross, as so often, gives a sense of one overburdened by a sense of duty and responsibility as a poet. It is good to see his language more under control than in other books (I mean, especially, his penchant for suddenly blurting onomatopaeic words) at the same time one would like a sense that his language is bringing up more surprising riches from the muddy margins he explores here, and not just the usual, dutiful nods to identity, marginality, history etc. He needed to get down and roll in it a bit more, I felt. Not a bad little poetry collection though, as poetry collections go.
Brilliance in poetry is no easy feat. Here are poems with edge and a distinctive voice, individual and appealing. There are poems with a polished, focused feel. They reveal and thrive upon a confidence the poet has developed over several worthy collections. Gross writes with energy, verve, a true love for language and the interruptions the extraordinary came make into the seemingly mundane. There are quiet poems and poems with a more abstract energy. This collection really needs to be read over time and re-read. Reflect and return. The well-crafted longer sequences stand out for me, as poetry that will always offer something to a reader over time. I prefer the poems with a present human insight, rather than those directly responding to a landscape, for example. If at times this books feels just a little too taut, a little honed, then perhaps the next collection will have a wider focus and be ever more revealing?
Loved the language and fluidity of `Poetic Form' used in `The Water Table'. Philip Gross succeeds in:- * Reflecting the moods and beauty of `The Seven Estuary'. * Whilst simultaneously exploring `the journey through time of humanity'. including concerns for our future and that of planet earth. * He invites the reader into inner reflections (of mind, body and spirit); therefore allowing opportunity to bridge that gap from Poetry and into deeper meditation. I would recommend this book to anyone who is searching for an interesting and reflective read