Bitter Green

Martin Corless-Smith. Fence (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-934200-98-8
In his beautifully broken sixth collection, British poet and painter Corless-Smith (English Fragments) finds new language for the lyric's oldest subjects: love and death. Beginning with the end of a marriage and ending with the death of a mother, Corless-Smith explores grief through brief, often untitled poems that are steeped in poetic history. Their rough edges and collaged lines give them a distinctly modern flavor, but the poems also often pillage the pastoral tradition for inspiration. The book's very first line, for example, invokes a nightingale, Keats's famous symbol of lyrical genius and transitory experience. "Hope is a flower, change is a gardener, death is the soil," Corless-Smith writes in "Nothing has transcended death," which begins on an English hillside. Elsewhere, end rhymes and ironic archaisms suggest even older bards, including Pope and Milton. Such self-consciousness occasionally smacks of elitism, but the solace Corless-Smith takes in the green world seems genuine rather than conventional, and the book's rawness makes its references intimate rather than showy, as though the reader is paging through a notebook or diary. "What should I bring to you," Corless-Smith writes in one the collection's most moving pieces. "It will not be pity or// Our love, which I can't find/ without you I must bring/ my general humanity/ a dull brute beast." (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2016
Release date: 12/01/2015
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