Drawing on the darkness glimpsed down alleyways, between streetlamps and on the edge of urban parks, Paul Deaton’s poetry pamphlet Black Knight is an impressively self-assured debut.
From the break up of a love affair to the unspoken grief within a family, Deaton explores the strength of human emotions set against forces both immovable and elemental. There are also moments of humour, and of satisfaction, as a late walk home from the pub becomes a passage of quiet contentment.
Deaton has a talent of bringing together the personal, and the universal, so that in the opening poem the sale of a bike becomes a eulogy to love lost and lessons learnt. Seasons and their offerings develop human characteristics, particularly vividly in August, when a crotchety old pear tree flings its fruit about in attention-seeking petulance, and somewhat more majestically in October: “Some burly blacksmith/ has quenched the sun/ in the cold sea of the sky, the cherry flames, distant, intensify.” Just beautiful.
In the poem Stalker, even the moon reveals its all-too human flaws, “He’ll watch all night like this, through/ his scarf of cloud, the broke drape; while we count faceless sheep/ he waits. He holds the hours we conflate.”
The visual qualities of these lines paint images inside my head, create characters, texture, and the delicious possibility of jeopardy.And yet, my favourite poem of this pamphlet focuses not on astral bodies, landscapes or nature’s ravishments. Instead, in Words, we listen in on a conversation between Deaton and his mum, hearing the thoughts between the spoken words as they touch on mortality, change tack, talk of fallen trees and leave unsaid the biggest tragedy in both their live. “She talks in tangents. Is this what she means?”
This ability to make the sweepingly grand seem utterly relatable, and to shine up the small details of life until they glimmer with significance give’s Deaton’s poetry an understated but undeniable power.
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