Michael Tolkien
No Time for Roses

October 2009. 80 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-28-2
£10.50 (+ 2.00 p&p), €13.00 (+ 2.50 p&p), US$ 18.00 (+ 3.00 p&p)
 

The first three parts of No Time for Roses explore various kinds of illusion in our formative experience and in our emotional, artistic and spiritual lives. The final part celebrates the power of love and mature perspectives over negative influences such as the loss of circumstances, objects and people we are attached to.

"[...] his poetry is fluent, crafted, easy on the eye and mind [...] it has a wide range of subjects and is anchored in a believable reality presented in detail which is allowed to speak for itself [...] his stance avoids sentimentality with a detachment which is not indifference [...]"

Eddie Wainwright, Envoi 144

"When moving away from the personal [...] his poems combine immediacy of description with dense but unobtrusive abstract thought [...] some of his nature poems leave the reader almost breathless with a sense of the transcendent [...]"

Julian Bell, Ambit 182


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Excerpts from No Time for Roses

Elegy at Pantasaph
for my parents
 
I pass yew groves and blackened angels
   presiding over Victorian tombs,
cross a bulldozed space where red sorrel
   and speedwell cover the distant dead,
then find them in a suburb of new plots.

A bypass roars like breakers. So many hands
   holding on for dear life.
It shakes me with the stillness of those who rest,
   have no address to find, nowhere
to drive or be driven, their years numbered

in granite. Tribute from a chisel shows
   no more than time served,
when each breath taken and released
   brought changes known only
to those who learned to love against the odds.

These new stones with their gilded screed
   feel like last greetings cards.
They buckle as I say: 'sit for ever
   in easy garden chairs, cats
at your feet, inhaling beds of lavender.'

Leave were it not for a brisk
   close-cropped little figure
swathed in fawn. Darts at a headless
   grave, crosses herself, mouths
a prayer, and scuttles off like a leaf.

Pause and calculate. Sixty-three
   and sixty-six. Their score
against mine. A scale to weigh up
   chances in this cold spot
without the windbreak they provided.

Bring back their last moments that still
   seem the bravest anyone's endured.
Meet the distant stare of mullioned windows.
   Look how that dutiful soul
so tightly wrapped jumps into her car.

Soon I follow her along the lime grove
   past the closed priory.
Every go-slow hump is someone's grave,
   and voices from the rookery
tell me what it's like to survive.

Heat of the Moment
 
Into tea table talk of five
overloaded minds wanders
a small black cat, bright
with delight in being alive,
while hunched over ginger cake
and lapsang souchong, we make
a meal of Romantic pleasure-
pain agonies. Such relief
in its glossy coat and fierce
undemanding eyes! My chance
to turn away from listening to
Rachmaninov damned or praised,
I bend down as if to greet
that friend I always seem to
spot in seething foreign squares.
Purring as a matter of course,
with a golden glance it leaves me
tingling from a touch of silky
spine to curl up by the empty
black stove. Immaculate
matching swirl of fireside cat.
 


"[...] 'John's Exclusives', a section as I see it central to the book, three poems each prefaced with a text from the Gospel of St John. This Christian theme seems to run throughout the book, as in 'Words and Paint' [...]. There is much else in Tolkien's poetry for me to admire more easily. in 'Proportions' he looks at other histories - scultpures of the Ancien Regime - and he has difficluty finding interest in and sympathy for them: they merge into an '... echo / from far down some / long-forgotten corridor'. He has a broad range of subjects from 'Yardley Road Public Library 1950', his start in reading, 'Butcher's Ghazal' [...], 'Grounded', 'Spree'. He has an adroit ear for descriptions of place. [...] Much for me to ponder, enjoy and remember from the collection."

Martin Bax, Ambit 199 (2010), 84-85.


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