The website of writer & artist Dan McNeil


Dick McBride | 2004
18th February, 2021
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I approached this book with some trepidation.

Not because of Dick McBride’s reputation: the author of three novels and several collections of poetry, his involvement with the Beat generation, his memoir of Allen Ginsberg, the fact that he (McBride, not Ginsberg – Ginsberg is dead) lives about twenty minutes from me and so, if he hates this review, will probably start lobbing bricks at my windows.

No. I approached this book with trepidation because I know bugger all about poetry, and this, you see, is a book of poetry. So why, you might ask (assuming you believe me to be serious – and I am) is McNeil reviewing this? Why not somebody with a passing knowledge of poetry? Simple, really. I blagged the review because I’m a literary review whore: I’ll review anything, just to get my name up there. I just keep pestering Laura Hird for more books.

The problem with this shameless and scattergun approach is that a significant percentage of books you get sent mean nothing to you. But, as any fule no, you have to read widely to become an inspired writer yourself. If you don’t read, you will mentally degenerate. Remember this axiom.

And so, onto a review of this slim volume.

Firstly, and by way of a caveat, I feel that my lack of knowledge of poetry (and it’s a lack of knowledge with respect to the mechanics of poetry, not a lack of emotional response – I know what I like, I know what moves me and I can be moved) is an advantage, because I come with no baggage, no biases and no cliquey viewpoints.

McBride’s work is new to me, which means I’m able to give you, the reader, the full emotional response. And here it is: this is, on the whole, a sublime collection.

McBride writes of political, environmental and personal issues: September Eleventh is, rather obviously, about the destruction of the World Trade Centre, and its very moving indeed. And on the First Day is (if I understand it correctly) a life affirming piece about renewal, both at the end of the week and at the end of a life.

My firm favourites by far are Star Poem and Woman is a River, the latter of which I reproduce here:

Woman is a river
Rampant through
Bending trees
Roaring with
Rage through
Of curves
Smooth lines of cloudy
Mirrors blossoming
In flowering flood
Go with the flow
Flow with the glow
The ebb tide
Coming, rides rollercoasters
To round out the
Morning, as the sun
Shines on the debris
Of resistance

I challenge you to remain emotionally and visually untouched by that text. There are other such texts about children, trees, leaves, graves, typewriters, dictionaries, smiles, rain and greed, to name but a few.

In truth, there are a few poems in this volume that didn’t reach me emotionally. On the strength of these that did however, I suspect this to be simple law of averages – a percentage of texts within a collection will inevitably miss the mark with one reader, only to strike true with another.

I probably wouldn’t have purchased this volume had I come across it in a bookstore. Now though, I’ll look out for and probably buy other work by McBride.

This fact, I hope, says it all to the reader of this review.

©Dan McNeil 2004
[This review first appeared in Laura Hird’s Showcase]