One Under The Sun, Vincent Spada’s recent poetry collection, is billed by its publishers Brambleby Books as “a powerful, thought-provoking collection” that “whilst primarily concerning people–human awareness, desire, love and sex, and awareness of beauty and its loss–also embraces big contemporary issues, social and environmental”. This description, general as it is, is in fact very much indicative of the book’s content.
The sixty-one poems that comprise the collection are widely varied. In “The ape sat alone” we see the discovery of fire by a primitive ape. In “He, whore” a writer sells out, penning work that “Got him published” but made him feel “…inside, so ashamed”. Meanwhile, “We are One under the Sun” informs us that we are all “…One/under the Sun”, while “Light-skinned angel” tackles issues of race with the lines, “Then I sold Negroes for mere pennies, and brought the Indians to their knees”.
Though I’m hesitant to criticise poetry for its subject, it is certain that these poems are on themes that have been done a thousand times before. They represent poetry at its most mainstream and general: diary poems. Though they no doubt express feelings that are earnest and heartfelt, they miss out on being original and insightful by a significant margin.
The written style too struck me as somewhat basic. Spada writes very plainly, but misses out on being stark and instead comes across as overly simplistic. There is none of the weighted language of poetry, none of the double meaning, none of the sleight of hand that can bring words on a page to life. Take out the line breaks from these poems and they would make a series of rather dull prose pieces. Even when there’s rhyme it feels basic and irritating. Everything you need to know about whether or not you’ll enjoy this collection can be determined by a quick look at a single verse from the first poem in the set.
In a dark, dark place
lies ruin and despair
The world may sink and suffer,
for I simply do not care
Although I’m not a fan of Spada’s work, I will say this: this is not bad poetry. It is at least thematically powerful, and in places the plain style even works to create a sense of the depth and rawness of natural history. For a mainstream collection it is strong enough to carry its weight in pages. Its imagery, its sweep and its contemplative attitude are its strengths. What it lacks is spark, and originality, and the powerful and complex train of thought and language that for me, at least, makes poetry worth reading.