Trevor Conway, a Sligoman living in Galway since 2005, writes mainly poetry, fiction and songs. His work has appeared in magazines and anthologies across Ireland, Austria, India, the UK, the US and Mexico, where his poems have been translated into Spanish. These publications include ROPES, Decanto, Read This, Fusion, The Literary Yard, Cuadrivio, Periodico de Poesia, Poetic Expressions and Poetry Salzburg Review. Subjects he’s drawn to include nature, creativity, football and people/society, especially the odd ways in which we look at the world. In 2011, he was awarded a Galway City Council bursary. He is a contributing editor for The Galway Review, and his first collection of poems is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry.
Adam White’s ‘Accurate Measurements’ would likely enchant any man
By Trevor Conway
Reading Adam White’s first collection of poems, published by Connemara’s Doire Press, it struck me that this is the kind of collection you could give to someone who doesn’t have a huge interest in poetry, expecting to kindle in that person a new passion. More specifically (and appropriately, considering the approach of Father’s Day), these poems would likely enchant any man in his 40s or beyond, though they’re certainly accessible to any age or gender.
White writes best on “manly” themes such as construction, DIY, carpentry, fishing and boating, as well as the setting of Connemara. These are the subjects with which he appears most comfortable, and are perhaps his most successful efforts. Wisely, these themes reappear again and again, dominating the book. Many of White’s poems deal with a process, a series of actions embracing one aim. He also opts for poems that describe a moment, a short scene or a character. These are, for the most part, less remarkable, though the approach offers a suitable contrast to those mentioned above.
Inevitably, comparisons will cite the work of Seamus Heaney. The first poem, “Roofing”, is very reminiscent of Heaney’s work. Though a good deal of White’s poetry recalls Heaney, he doesn’t linger over the flavour or words as Heaney does. He knows when to offer a taste and move on. Nature and the touch of human hands come together brilliantly in “Dam”, about a third of the way into the book, and one of the highlights of the collection. He describes the effects of “This thirty five-metre high cast belt of concrete”. The rhythm shifts abruptly with “The/ river lay around and turned into a lake. A/ river that used to pitch past and spit in your face/ is now a sheet of still water”. A stark turn of imagery towards the end takes us away from nature versus the artificial. The dam, we hear, “turns out enough electricity/ for you and I to leave on twenty five thousand/ televisions all day for a year. Yes, that many/ televisions left on necessitates stopping up a river”.
This poem is followed by “English for the Workplace”, a prose poem most likely intended for a slam poetry event. While this offers some interesting insight into the life of an English teacher, it appears too concerned with wordplay, led by the need to rap, tangling a web of internal rhymes. Reading it, it’s hard not to speculate that a very fine poem might have resulted if White had tackled this subject in a more natural style. This natural style, which pervades most of the poems here, is highly articulate, exhibiting a certain ease with language. It is quite casual in tone and structure, in the most pleasing way.
Some poems adopt a more prose feel (though not presented as prose poems), such as “A Bad Fall”, which reads quite like a story. Such moments are much less successful than lines like: “Sometimes, in the rush of things, scaffolding/ stood like pairs of roofers’ high heels, has/ to be quickly stripped, and will be off bringing// out potential in a new house”. “In Sheffield” boasts a great, original opening line: “A steelworker with a four-storey face”.
When White explores the world of manual labour, gems appear. “Strike!”, which could’ve been given a more interesting title, describes the hammering of a nail: “the shock of an inaccurate hammer/ could leave it on its back, frolicking down off a roof”. The next poem, “Graduand”, begins with “From the ground up this house was teaching me”. “An Awakening”, set on a boat off Connemara, perfectly blends the manual (fishing) with the abstract/emotional. Though White writes very well on fishing, a series of consecutive fishing poems five or six poems strong feels like an overload. Elsewhere, however, a good balance is maintained.
The abiding sense here is that there is something very charming about these poems. They tackle a set of themes, all related in terms of their hands-on manliness, from various angles. It would be impossible to become bored of White’s descriptions of men at work, no matter how many times he describes this. Most of the poems in Accurate Measurements strike true, leaving the reader with a sense of having savoured the experience of hanging a door or cutting a piece of wood. It’ll be interesting to see what other subjects will be laid bare on Adam White’s work bench in time.