Review: “Winter Houses” by Sam Silva

Winter Houses

In the first poem “Celebrations of the Stoic Mind” I was taken to a place that I was happy to visit, but which was not laid out for me in a stark or obvious manner. Rather, I was intrigued and teased into wanting to read on. Much of this is in the nature of stoicism of course, but this intrigue pervades in other poems in this aptly titled Winter Houses collection.

I have never fully subscribed to advice that I often read, that a poem should have a captivating title, but titles such as the above and others such as “Prayers Which Suffice For Blasphemy” or “A Tragedy Of Faith…That Human Thirst” certainly tantalise and made me hungry to discover what lay behind them. I was not to be disappointed. Lines such as

Our father’s voice
was the sound of despair
like acid
corroding
the pipes to an old house

do not resonate with my own experience, but send me somewhere special to leaf through my own imagination. It is through lines such as these that we learn about the poet, his past, the significance of houses, winter and his reflections at this stage of his life.

I am fifty one years old
and my breathing wheezes grease,

Strong imagery like this is always damped down, quietened, made meek in subtle and intriguing ways. These are womb-like poems or hospital bed poems where the poet is speaking from within warm wraps, protected and able to contemplate the ravages of a diseased or cruel winter world outside. In four of the nine truly beautiful poems, cigarettes or the smoke that come from them are a reference to disease but also help to reinforce the sense of peace, of near silence that pervades these poems. All the senses are teased. I smell the cigarettes smoldering away. I hear him shuffle in an out of shoes. I see the trees around his house, naked now in a winter hush. I taste the warm winds that kiss our frozen lips and delight to learn that pain has a colour – lilac.

Winter Houses is available from Lulu.com

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Graham Burchell (www.gburchell.com) was born in 1950 in Canterbury, England but now writes from his home in Houston, Texas. He is the winner of the 2005 Chapter One Promotions Open Poetry Competition, Winner of the 2006 Hazel Street Productions Poetry Contest, the runner up in the 2005 ‘Into Africa’ International Poetry Competition and a runner up in the 2006 Ware Open Poetry Competition. He was also nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. His poetry has appeared in many print and online literary magazines. He is the editor of the online poetry journal, Words-Myth.