Glen Cavaliero
Ancestral Haunt

2002. 107 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-11-4; ISBN-10 3-901993-11-8
£10.50 (+ 2.00 p&p), €13.00 (+ 2.50 p&p), US$18.00 (+ 3.00 p&p)
 

Cavaliero's explorations of place and mood, and his exercises of memory [...] are all of them subtly conditioned by his strong moral sense and by his ever-alert self-awareness. [...] The exactness of Cavaliero's language [...], the pointedness of his word-play, is characteristic and feeds into the serious (though far from solemn) speculative wit of "Foremothers" or the wry study of manners in poems such as "Carriage Trade" and "Acceptable". His range also incorporates such finely shaped lyrics as "Sarn Helen". Though not a spectacular talent, Cavaliero is a poet with much to offer, shrewd in his observation of human nature (not least his own), attentive to that mood of place which is generated by the simultaneous presence of past and present and technically assured in his articulation of relatively fugitive emotions and sensations. Very well-worth getting to know.

Glyn Pursglove, Acumen 44, September 2002.


Peter Scupham, "Oblique Tracking: Glen Cavaliero, Ancestral Haunt", PN Review 29.1 (Sept.-Oct. 2002), pp. 79-80.

Glen Cavaliero's fifth collection, substantial, elegantly produced, with a sensitive introduction by D.M. de Silva, gathers together work which the poet steered into four sections: "In Cromwell's Country", "On Parade", "Going Places" and "Crossbeam". The theme wound into this ordering, approached glancingly, playfully, signed by its absence or by a fully charged realisation of its power is the presence of the metaphysical dimension, that mysterium in which imaginative operates by its very nature. As Cavaliero says, in The Supernatural and English Fiction (Oxford, 1995), "The Absolute is not to be tracked down like some unknown statue in a sacred grove"; his oblique tracking in Ancestral Haunt is conducted by means of the artifices of cadence, patterning and musicality. We are led through the tattered and torn absences of a fenland landscape, where Ely Cathedral's Lady Chapel holds "a hall / of butchered images", to the ambivalent release of the book's penultimate poem, "The Embarkation". At some tentative last the scurrying changes of history are left behind, and old tombs" can prop each other up".

"In Cromwell's Country" leads us into troubled webs of indirection, its imagery suggestive of random despoliation, of pitching camp among the ruins: that "brood of huddled leather, deaf with fixing " in "Leicester Red", those "grubby beaches with their know-how boys" in "Southern Shore". Such tatty sobrieties are relieved by Cavaliero's trademark macabre-jaunty-satirical note, tautly expressed in "Pastoral", "White Witch" and "Rutterkin", and there are redemptions, as in "The Strong Gate":

So - if there is only one world, seeing is believing
you are relieved to say? And yet believing's
    also seeing - a smoke of bluebells
    spreads across gaunt acres,
The originating wood invisible, blown down, uprooted.
Tourists with rucksacks, breathless, marvel as they stare.

"On Parade" is seriously light-hearted conjuring with the disjecta membra of the family ghosts. A roguish middle-class gallery - honorary aunts, the blood-tied, the fictional - are brought back from the first half of the last century to bear, as in the section's title-poem, "a reticence embedded no less deep / than are the bones it sheltered". In these poems, a half-trustworthy name - Miss Gont, Glad Fox, Mrs Pitt - may be all we and the poet have to go on, but names and bric-à-brac, as Cavaliero puts it in "A Garland" can "generate a liturgy / for prisoners of oblivion", an oblivion intimately related in many poems to the Great War and its aftermath. It is not easy to distinguish between the fictions Cavaliero gives to actual lives and the life he gives to vivid fictions; the poems have their being in the creative communion between those poles. In the third section, "Going Places", intrusions of the dark disturb houses and landscapes; the cast if queasier, a group whose professional spirituality, as in "The Prelate's Son" or "Holy Woman" is damaged and somehow damaging. With "Crossbeam", the texture of the verse opens into lucidity and ease. There is no rest from ambivalence, but in freshly-lit landscapes the tone becomes one of affirmation, and in possibly the most painful and moving poem of the collection, "The Snow Boy", there is a fusion of dead child, mother and dissolving figurine of snow which brings love, pain and healing triumphantly together.

This collection, formally adroit, various in tone, is quite unconcerned with the skin-deep, though it is Cavaliero's great strength that the spiritual dimensions he probes and hunts in can only be approached through the variousness of things, the quiddities and oddities of a sensuously apprehended but deeply mysterious world.


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