Down Ghost Lane
Keith’s stated aim with this collection is “to create sudden contrasts of mood and subject matter. If there are underlying themes that connect then I have left that for the reader to decide.” This is indeed an emotional kaleidoscope which will surely stimulate all readers to stretch their powers of association. He could have made linear progressions of his main themes, and divided them into sections: the life story narratives, the self-criticism and self-parody, the social commentaries, the exploration of relationships, with their up- and down-sides, and the environmental observations. But he chose the discrete, dispersed approach, which to me is ‘true to life’, as in the course of living we are subjected to perpetual cross-currents. Good that the collection is laced with some song-lyrics, acknowledging this other vital area of Keith’s activity. It ends, appropriately, with obituaries of two of his late friends, tracing their terminal decline, and the cosmic dimensions of their departures.
The opening (title) poem deals with revisitation of childhood haunts. The Water Serpent and the She-Serpent recalls Keats’s Lamia. I was Born a Horse is an allegorical life story, from childhood to old age. He ventures, physically and mentally, into uncharted dimensions. The Shy Cold Moon is charmingly deified. Ebbs and Flows uses the elements as metaphors for a human life. Sanatorium – a Survivor poem par excellence. In the Final Count mourns a bereavement. Out of the blue it was you – a flashback to romantic, enduring and spiritual love. Key embraces the ups and downs of life, and the interrelation of dream and reality. Blackbird Soul reflects on the question of the immortality of the departed. Jean’s Secret explores a suicidal drowning – where total communion with the sea represents the fulfillment of life.
Keith explores the animal kingdom in Bird Dives and Glistening Fur. Dilly Dally Plodder is an allegory of a human nonentity in the form of a snail. In Ladybird don’t fly away puts a sympathetic confidante into the insect kingdom. Reveries is a delicate interweaving of the themes of courtship and natural phenomena – an analogy of hunting, and the portrayal of human beings in terms of plants and flowers, and some classical allusions thrown in. An abrupt change of tone with Little Johnny Bang – a charming portrait of a freelance craftsman laced with allusions to rock’n’roll mythology. Your Shoes Not My Shoes – the opener “Put myself in your shoes” is a novel inversion of that colloquialism. There is a struggle to be objective in the face of intense feelings; many ramifications of ‘you are right from your side, and I am right from mine.” Song 2 is a pop lyric – protest to a fickle partner, with a few barbs, a cocktail of adoration and exasperation. Ryan seems to be a taciturn, inscrutable but highly perceptive entity, who unfailingly registers all around him.
Man of Pearl is a novel gloss on the concept of the world being one’s oyster, the individual being the pearl inside the oyster. Crystal shows Keith’s deep empathy with ‘the other side of the hill’ in terms of relationships – a woman struggling with disappointment, loneliness and rejection, sometimes driven to desperation. But she remains independent and resilient. Skid Row is a heartfelt plea for the homeless – acknowledging the ‘middle ground’ of those not so far away from that condition. Lord and Laird of Tap, Turn and Skip is a cautionary tale, warning a female addressee of the dangerous charm of a Scottish dancer. Dance Mother Dance, fractionally, presents the other side of the coin – with the vital difference that the seductive dancer is exclusively focused on herself; she has no predatory potential for others. Bonny Babe is a strange flashback to his own babyhood. Jack Frost assumes the proportions of a grand malignant entity, a callous menace to anyone emotionally – literally and metaphorically a ravager of the environment.
Maria’s Magnificent Bread and Butter Pudding – amiable banter of an affectionate couple: a clever hint of double entendre with culinary references. Old School Family Treat is a nostalgic flashback to an old-style tea party. Anger shows great sensitivity in recognizing the two sides of any relationship. Appreciating the qualities of oneself in one’s partner shows a high degree of self-knowledge. Lay it out on the Table, is in a way, a contrary to the preceding poem. It challenges a pompous, recalcitrant partner to be honest and reciprocal in the relationship. Jimmy Rage is a personification of bitterness and resentment. Sick Bed is a great hymn to hospitalization, with its synthesis of comfort and imprisonment. Lovebirds in Overdrive benignly celebrates the happiness of a loving couple on a cycling expedition. Pure Gold – exquisite celebration of the arboreal. Squirt and Mop personifies kitchen accessories. Lemon Cheesecake is a cry from the heart of a sensual gourmet. Spinning on a Pinhead comes from the angst of one constantly beset by indecision.
In For Richard Dyke, Keith in a way looks to his friend’s extremity as a source of guidance and enlightenment. His departure is a sort of Armageddon, and indictment to the universe: ‘heaven’s blighted blue estate’ is particularly cogent. Song (for Peter) seems to refer to the perfection of a funeral hymn.