NEW & SELECTED POEMS BY PAUL SUTHERLAND
£20.00 / 380 pages
Reviewed by: Antony Owen
Upon reading Paul Sutherland’s masterful New & Selected Poems by Valley Press, an extract from the poem Where Are You by Jean-Louis N-Tadi helped summon up the impression it made upon me:
Where are you,
Brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, mother and others
Of the sidelong glances?
May nature lend you her wealth,
Meet you on your road, in your race,
In every season.
In 380 pages comprising of new and selected poems from all of Sutherland’s ten collections, spanning over four decades, a well thought-out compilation is needed to sustain a narrative quality for the reader. Sutherland has a great understanding from the reader’s perspective and cleverly he sectorises his book into personal experiences of relationships with both family and place. He begins where the family tree root does, with a section simply titled Grandfather & Grandmother. Sutherland is very interested in origins and destinations; he has a great understanding of the former, yet like all journeymen he is both settled and unsettled, never fully realising his destination until he understands the dynamics of relationships of place and family. This is a quest that seems to simultaneously make and break his spirit. In the beautifully understated exposition poem Returning to My Homeland, Sutherland memorialises what an epitaph cannot and resurrects the spiritual internments of what loved ones mean to us, and how they shape us like the soil that encases them on that final journey;
At my Grandparents’ burial spot
Where few had come to separate funerals
With many secrets sprinkled into the earth
I kneel, brush and polish.
In encroaching grass their shone floral design
Reflects nothing of their past wishing.
I rise with stained knees and walk off…
With his and her terrors bonded to me while grey
Travellers, Canada geese, stray among the plots.
In this poem I felt that Sutherland is the geese straying among the plots, that exhausting migratory journey against the elements, a grey comma of feathers only pausing to let nature carry us to where we think we are going. His grass-stained knees and his rising is the taking of flight from the old nest from which he came. Sutherland, though lyrical in his writing, is a master of coruscating images that are to be contemplated or just enjoyed for how they make us pause and reflect inward. His prose and poems incite empathy and a reminder that displacement is more than exile, it is also a guidebook to knowing ourselves better once the journey of evolving self is undertaken.
Each section of this book focuses on different memories and spans the life and compass of Sutherland’s fascinating life and personal experiences. They can be read individually or in the intended sequence. At £20.00 many people might think it expensive for a book, but when you consider that this has the best of ten collections plus new work included then it is well worth the money. I hope Poetry International feature Sutherland in their writers directory for he is a craftsman of prose and poetry deserving of the highest accolades and has accomplished much.
We need more poets like Sutherland, who speak to and not at us, sharing the universal experiences of family and life experience in such a colloquial, generous, and personal way that ensures poetry revalidates itself as the trusted capturer we turn to at key times of life. Sutherland is this poet and so much more. He is nomadic, experimental, straight talking, brave yet fragile and effortlessly mysterious that make the pages turn slow as he makes you reflect. I recently saw a photograph of Sutherland ponderously staring out to the sea, and the sea for me represents his journeyman spirit perfectly. When you feel a smooth pebble we forget how it came to be that way, and it is these pebbles that are desired when we take our pick, yet Sutherland has taught me that is the rough and tumble that sculptures it that way, that the journeys and relationships we have are both shale and sea. It is a collection I will never forget and I cannot recommend it highly enough to readers of poetry and those who live it.