Oct/Nov 2018 Reviews & Interviews

Crow Flight across the Sun

Crow Flight across the Sun.
Mike Di Placido.
Calder Valley. 2017. 57 pp.
ISBN 978 1 9997062 1 0 60.

Review by Ann Skea

Crow Flight across the Sun is Mike Di Placido's tribute to Ted Hughes and also a thank-you to Keith Sagar who read his early poems and encouraged him to keep writing.

In his "Introduction," Di Placido writes that his early exposure to the "viscerality," "immediacy," and "imagistic punch" of Hughes' poems like "Crow," "Pike," and "The Jaguar" helped to inspire his entry into writing. And although Di Placido's own voice is clear in this collection, Hughes is present not just in the two short prose pieces where he (almost) meets him, but also in the spirit, language, imagery, and humor of the poems.

As if to demonstrate the power of Hughes' influence, the first poem in the book, "Metamorphosis," imagines Di Placido changed into a "six-foot-plus," tattered "Incredible Hulk," so attuned to "the sky / the moving miracle of clouds," "the grass so pungent," and the bird calls that "listening is painful," as he fumbles for his pen to start writing.

His poems are, as he says, an "eclectic bunch." The language is simple and direct, and the poems are beautifully crafted so every word fits naturally into the rhythms of ordinary speech. They are full of images and phrases to spark the imagination: "bees / doing their high wire act / among the purple loosestrife. /... their 'baskets' spilling over with booty"; a toad hops its way down the page in abrupt, single-word lines; a few rays of sunshine prompt a "ransack" of the shed for "those stripy chairs from Asda," the coating of "alabaster limbs with lotion and sunblock from brightly coloured bottles" and dreams of "Cap Ferrat and Cannes" before, "sooner or later his majesty retires, as do we."

Some poems or "Sketches" are directly inspired by Hughes: "Swallow" is an "An aerobatic genius"; "Cormorant" flies down the page reproducing the birds' distinctive shape in flight; "Caterpillar Chic" views the creature as "the loop / of a torn-off toggle" or fancy braiding on "a 60's Afghan coat." A Pigeon, a toad, a rock-pool, all reflect on Hughes's own closeness to nature. Other brief sketches seem less closely linked to Hughes but reflect his skill at neatly encapsulating thought, character and humor, as he does repeatedly in Crow: Di Placido's ironically pretentious dream of a "Blue Plaque" on his own place of birth is punctured by reality in the final line. And, my favorite sketch, "Alpha," in just four lines perfectly captures the reason why this questioner's aspiration to be an alpha male is doomed.

The prose pieces in this collection—"Tiresias at the Bottle Bank," "Crow on my Shoulder" (a memory of Hughes and Tony Harrison reading their poems at York Theatre Royal in1994), and "The Snake, the Oak and the Chair" (remembering listening to the broadcast of the Ted Hughes Memorial Service while at Lumb Bank)—are fine examples of story-telling.

Whether he is imagining "Shakespeare on Scarborough's Castle Hill (1591)," remembering a visit to Australia and onion picking in "the heat haze" with "the girls in their shorts / in the next field" picking "huge, white, bulbous onions" and himself as "King of the crop!" or himself holding things that once belonged to Hughes (his pen, his scarf, and the small bronze jaguar he ceated) and being moved by them, Di Placido honors the power Hughes' work has had over his own imagination and creativity.

Crow Flight across the Sun is a small gift in poetry and prose I think Ted Hughes would have enjoyed.


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