The “about the author” paragraph that opens Alcedo – the recent collection of poems by Jeffrey Donoghue – filled me with a sense of foreboding. It speaks of the poet as a “student of life” and states that he believes poetry to be “interwoven with the higher forms of magic”. It smacks of a rather mystical, starry-eyed approach to poetry. Combine that with the blurb on the back of the book (which is so general and so cliché that it could be the blurb of any book of poetry ever written) and the initial signs are not good.
The poems themselves run the standard gamut of poetry topics. There’s poems about growing old, about war, about love, about death. The blurb on the back of the book states that Donoghue, in his verse, encompasses “the depth and breadth of human experience” and tackles “the largest of questions of existence and meaning”. And maybe he does, but my general feeling was that the subjects of the poems in Alcedo were so broad that they ended up being about nothing at all.
If pressed, I might be able to come up with a central idea or message for some of the poems, but it would always be along the lines of “love is nice” or “war is bad”. These verses are hardly groundbreaking. Indeed, they’re the kind of poetry that can be found anywhere. Google “poem” and you’ll find page after digital page bursting at the seams with generic poems about love, war, memory, etc, etc.
So the subject matter left me cold, but what about the poems themselves? They struck me as perfectly-serviceable. The rhyme scheme is frequently forced, the images are often muddy, and each page is littered with clichés, but they remained readable. None particularly grabbed me, but they certainly weren’t obtrusively bad. Indeed there were moments when an image did hit home. “Seas Of Grass” was one poem that I felt worked a little better than the rest. It was a poem about ageing, and on this topic it offered nothing new or interesting, but the image around which the poem was constructed – of the narrator and various others wading through a sea of grass – was at least fresh and vivid. Unfortunately these moments of clarity were few and far between.
I think my main issue with Alcedo is that it did nothing new or interesting. It is a well-presented and varied little collection of poems, but it isn’t exciting, nor even particularly distinct from the masses of general poetry available on the internet. It’s a collection of the kind of poems I’ve read a thousand times before – and while it would be unfair to say that it was bad, I can’t honestly recommend it.
Christopher Frost now lives in Stoke-on-Trent, after studying at nearby Keele University. He is a freelance writer, and spends most of his time working for a local charity. In his spare moments he reads furiously, and writes book reviews.