I’d never read anything by Colin Simms before which just goes to show that there are so many fine poets at work and I've never heard of them. A book of poems about Goshawks might not sound interesting, and it could have been disastrous, but this is a fine example of Donald Davie’s ‘poetry of right naming’, recording decades of close observation. It reminds me of John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, Ruskin with his notebook and pencil, trying to capture the sea or light on water or clouds. It’s one of the highest compliments I can pay a book.
At first the exuberant abundance is overwhelming: 150 pages of poems, often with two or three to a page. But once over being intimidated the book rewards repeated reading.
I don’t like poetry books that don’t need readers: this one does. It wants its Model Reader to pay attention, to look carefully, and then keep looking as the poems turn the subject in different lights, different settings. The poems want the reader to share their fascination and to realize how paying this kind of attention is rewarded not with repetition but endless variation. Perhaps the great achievement here it that for all the decades of attention Simms pays to them, the Goshawks never become domesticated or humanised, are never translated into some comfortably symbolic figure. They remain beautifully, fascinatingly other.
The best poetry sometimes sounds familiar. There’s echoes of Ivor Gurney, Hopkins, Bunting, (Bunting and MacDairmid make fleeting appearances in the poems) but while there’s a sense of continuity and tradition, this is not to suggest that these poems are just a combination of those poets, or other ones other readers might hear. Beyond the familiar echoes is something unique unto itself.
Many of the poems have the provisional feel of a rapid sketch, the language hurrying to catch the movement of the hawk across field, the scatterings of prey, the omnipresent weather, and the way it alters light and activity:
Wind lifts beech leaves progressively in a pattern of little waves
a tide towards the wood’s enclosing slopes, heaping-up this November
Alan and I looked vainly for woodcoks’s through. Under the timber
wings blow a path parting the same leaves in lesser musical staves
even the wings of Bramblings. (p.64)
‘Provisional’ is not a way of suggesting the poems are badly made or unfinished. Speak the lines aloud, listen to the way the verse moves. This is not accidental. It is enviable.
My only problem with this book is that there seems to be many other books by Simms I now have to read. An economic problem, but something I look forward to solving.