In ‘Special Place’ he captures an idyllic moment in the county of his birth: ‘ For me it’s back in the heart of Sussex / where you and I pick out the white exotic / flesh of steamed langoustine from there pink shells…’ Although occasionally Wyeth acknowledges that in Cork he is an outsider one does not feel that he makes heavy weather of this fact. In ‘A Million Tanks in Cork’ he highlights his ‘right angled / accent buffeting against the soft curves / of their rain-washed burrs.’ In ‘Deoch an Dorais’ he refers to himself as a ‘tongue-tied blow-in.’ Moreover, Wyeth is frequently a playful and experimental poet. ‘Sycamore’ is a picture poem, while ‘Telepathy’ follows Don Paterson in presenting us with a blank page and a title masquerading as a poem. More impressively, he seems to have invented his own original form where, in poems such as ‘Sunrise’, ‘May the Road Rise’ and’ ‘Snake Charm’, the text has to be read from the bottom to the top of the page, a form of mimesis that seems entirely appropriate to his subject matter. At times, too, Wyeth can be extremely funny as in ‘Guru Dave’, ‘Famous Danish Poets’, or ‘A Viking Comes to Tea’, which is so good it deserves to be widely anthologized.
However, at the heart of Silent Music there are several poems which also impress by their depth and truth to feeling. In ‘Dad’ he describes how the excitement he feels on weekend excursions with his father soon fades as the reality of parental separation returns: ‘Another week of staring into space in classrooms, / waiting for our next outing all together. Save Mum’. ‘Pinter’s Pause’ is a strikingly original love poem, while ‘Robin’ is a beautifully rendered elegy for a friend, its poignant description of the bird reminding one of Lesbia’s sparrow. A varied and highly enjoyable debut, Silent Music is impressive both for its wit and the depth of its emotional impact.
Review: Silent Music reviewed by Adam Tavel for EMPRISE REVIEW USA
To ask an American poet about international verse is often a waiting game, wherein one counts how many ticks of the second hand it takes for the responder to sing Neruda’s praises, quizzically gaze out the window, and deftly change the subject after a dramatic pause like a Wes Anderson protagonist. With the proliferation of, and plurality within, our many aesthetic cliques, it is lamentable that so few of us (this reviewer included) break out and explore the many emerging voices in the grand chorus of English language poetry. Such were my sentiments as I recently devoured Adam Wyeth’s mature and emotionally nuanced debut, Silent Music, as its central themes of divorce, transgression, and identity (in this case, Anglo-Irish) are vital to our Yankee discourse, but more importantly, his is an impressive and rangy collection that sidesteps the plangent gestures that so often mar first books.
Equally skilled in form and free verse, Wyeth displays the variety, zest, and invention one finds in the early work of Heaney and Lowell, since his best poems unfurl with organic pathos, rugged bravado, and rustic charm. Time and again, poems such as “Rough Music,” “Dad,” and “Blackout” occupy a third space that defies the quaint artificial division between lyric and narrative, whether Wyeth takes domestic violence, divorce, or the loss of innocence as his subject. Indeed, Silent Music is unflinching in both subject and theme, too—just in the first half-dozen poems, both poet and reader confront colonialism, landscape, grief, alcoholism, memory, and belonging.
“Butterfly Daughter,” a brief Dickinsonesque vignette from late in the collection, is a fitting representation of Wyeth’s strengths, since its ballad meter and gentle understatement capture the duality of a rapturous young girl imprisoned by the world (and perhaps the Holocaust, too, depending on how one interprets its final line). It is worth sharing here in its entirety:
Such ache is the foundation of many first books, but Wyeth’s bawdy humor keeps Silent Music afloat through its weaker poems, which are few. When the moment calls for wit, Wyeth prefers to play class clown rather than the wry wielder of irony, so it is impossible not to chuckle at the book’s coarser moments, such as “Life as Shit” (where two lads actually taste their own scat) and “Telepathy,” which is merely a blank page. (It is worth noting that both of the aforementioned poems made this reviewer guffaw aloud on first reading, despite the fact that I read them in the emergency room with a broken bone.)
Silent Music is also commendable for its formal ambition and arrangement, both of which display Wyeth’s commitment to Frost’s famous commandment that the book itself serve as the ultimate poem. The bottom-up lyric “Sunrise” precedes the witty haiku “Waiting for the Miracle at Ballinspittle Grotto,” while the sonorous sonnet “Apples” follows the Oedipal couplets of “Cinema Complex”; these are but two of many instances where Wyeth achieves greater resonance and echo from his meticulous sequencing.
At the heart of Silent Music is Wyeth’s double consciousness, as he straddles British and Irish identities and finds neither to be a true encapsulation of the self. Such searching, however, takes on the force of metaphor as the collection progresses—in poems such as “Deoch an Dorais” and “The Long Run”—since the poet repeatedly attempts to reconcile the daily struggles of our material lives with the brief communion we find in the poetic experience. For Wyeth, it is a communion worthy of awe despite our many sufferings, and the candor, craft, and lilt of these poems are a testament to his faith in language. It is a language we share, after all, stretched across these many miles of sea.
–Adam Tavel is a Contributing Editor for Emprise Review
Review: Dave Lordan reviews Adam Wyeth's début collection Silent Music in Southword journal, Cork.
Silent Music is an impressive début collection which showcases the author’s ability across a wide variety of short forms, ranging from the zen brevity of ‘Waiting for the Miracle at Ballinspittle Grotto’ to the playful and comedic wisdom of ‘Finding Rumi’ and ‘Silent Music’.
The collection opens, daringly enough, with a quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, "The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven," and the book displays the thus signalled restlessness throughout, moving with admirable dexterity and competence across space, time, theme and form.
The quote also alerts us to another central feature of the collection, Wyeth’s intelligent and lively critical engagement with literary traditions past and present. His love affair with poetry, and with certain poets, is obvious, and there is a sense of homage throughout, not only in direct paeans to living poets such as Leland Bardwell and Maurice Scully, but also in the formal and thematic references to the post war Avant-garde in the United States, and to more distant but not unrelated figures such as Rumi and Basho.
Wry humour is the distancing effect which keeps all this from slipping into mere imitation, or hero worship, or what David Wheatley has referred to online as ‘mysticism light’. It prevents us from giving in to the temptation to ask "well here is John Cage, and there is Pinter, but where is Adam Wyeth?"
As befits a collection with the word "music" in its title, the book is also distinguished by close attention to the sonic possibilities of line and verse. It is obvious that every line has been worked to maximise its internal music, and also to sync with larger harmonies and sound patterns traversing and enlivening the framing verses and poems as a whole. I recommend reading aloud to appreciate fully such lines as these:
Looking up during each pause –
I imagined him creeping beyond our garden
Wriggling under the gap in the fence
Behind the clematis and the convolvulus –
Or whatever it was? The twist of hedgerow
The turn in the lane, the height of the day.
('Pinter’s Pause', 13-18)
The terse honesty of the family related poems adds depth and seriousness to the collection. ‘Dad’ and ‘Carry the Torture’ fume with patricidal enmity, while ‘Life is Shit’ proves that a good poet, like a good alchemist, can make the dirt glitter.
To his credit, Wyeth can stretch his empathetic imagination beyond both literary and biological families and out into the continuous catastrophe of human history. ‘Chamber Music’ is a controlled meditation on the marriage of genocide and high culture in the gas camps. 'Lord of the Mountain' is told, provocatively, in the voice of a Bolivian child miner, a contemporary incarnation of Blake’s Chimney Sweep.
© 2011 Dave Lordan