I own two books by Philip Gross – The Water Table (winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2009), and Love Songs of Carbon (from 2015), both published by Bloodeaxe Books. I’m not quite sure why I only have two of his collections. In my opinion he is one of our best contemporary poets.
I grew up in Somerset, so a lot of his location – based writing has deep resonance for me (Gross was born in 1952 in Cornwall), and The Water Table in particular is centred on the South West of England, with a particular focus on the Bristol Channel. Not only poems of place, but there is also elemental poetry about water itself.
Here’s Gross reading Severn Song, the final poem in the collection;
There are poems of environmental change – Atlantis World and Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade, which begins with the lines;
Last night it came knocking, a first
since the end of the Ice Age. A stray eddy brought it,
a backhander from the Gulf Stream. It was heading
inland, could it be to spawn?
Other highlights (for me at least include a long poem which lifts off with observations in a retail car park (Fantasia on a Theme from IKEA), and a sequence running through the book (Betweenland I to Betweenland X) which as their titles suggest, explore the spaces between land, water and air.
A body of water: water’s body
that seems to have a mind (and
change it: isn’t that what makes
a mind, its changing?) not much
prone to thinking – rather, thoughts
curl through it, salt or fresh, or hang
between states: sometimes gloss
the surface with their oil-illuminations.
(from Betweenland I)
There are other poems of course, on other subjects, but this is a collection that is held together by water and how it connects us to our past and who we are. A good review can be found in the Guardian here:
You can buy it on Bookshop.org here:
There is an excellent review of Love Songs of Carbon , Philip Gross’ eighteenth collection in the Wales Art Review here:
It’s another superb collection, and as with The Water Table, it’s a book I highly recommend.
As with The Water Table, it’s on my poetry bookshelf at;
This collection explores different themes, predominantly of ageing, and the language is, as with The Water Table word perfect. Take the first seven lines of A Walk Across a Field
A week of snow, slight melt, refreeze
and it comes to this: the ground
to every step;
it has us grappling, gasping, at each other,
like the fond emergencies
of young love.
To quote Michael Symmons Roberts & Moniza Alvi, writing in the PBS bulletin
‘The writing is sinewy, urgent and resourceful. The poet is a master of form, deploying his visual and aural patterns for emphasis, as if the page were a musical score. The absolute poise of the lines carve a way through the knotted difficulty of the raw material’.
Interested in finding out more? I’m going to finish with the classic social media / blogger’s faux pas, with a link away from this blog, but it’s worth it. You can read, and hear, a lot more of Philip Gross’ work via his website, at;
I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest post in my From my Poetry Bookshelf series. Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments.