Here Comes the Night, Alan Gillis’s third collection, broadens and deepens the range of Hawks and Doves, hailed by Peter McDonald as ‘a decisive volume in the developing story of poetry from Northern Ireland, full of independence, imaginative strength, and a confidence that is fully justified’.
‘Go on and Google yourself’, he writes in a book that is uncommonly alert, alive and attuned to the current moment. Many of the protagonists in his poems waver, suspended between states of mind on the streets of Belfast and Basra (and a dream there of leave when ‘we’ll get hammered on Remembrance Day’). That suspense permeates his wild extended narratives that expose a phantasmagorical vision which ranges ‘From an ASBO to Asda’, taking in city bankers and inept gangsters along the way. Alan Gillis’s epicurean delight in language and adventurous formal dexterity create a world that embraces the graffiti of industrial dereliction and the grace of a father’s love.
Here Comes the Night is sometimes comic, sometimes menacing and always dynamic. Intent on craic though sensitive to the cracks in society and in the self, it expresses a contemporary culture and confirms that Alan Gillis, as he constructs a spectacular body of work, is a potent force.
In this wonderful collection, Gillis’s audacious formal and linguistic virtuosity immerses the reader in a twofold world separated by an invisible screen, a two-way looking glass, through which the poet constantly navigates.
— Alexandra Tauvry, Tower Poetry
Read the full review here.
Alan Gillis’s third collection, Here Comes the Night, borrows its title from a song by the 1960s rock band Them: an upbeat, breezy pop tune that masks a lyrical tale of loneliness and unrequited love. It is a fitting anthem for a book of poems whose bounding rhythms, fizzy slang and runaway clauses waver between melancholy and contentment, typically when the poet loses himself amid the bustle and blur of modern city life. Formal yet freewheeling, mixing descriptive detail with breakneck pace, most of Gillis’s poems run to several pages: the opening piece, “Down Through Dark and Emptying Streets”, kicks off unpromisingly with its references to Google, Facebook and MySpace, but its cinematic sweep develops over twenty quatrains into an unnerving appraisal of the virtual world and memory’s corridors. As with Gillis’s last collection, Hawks and Doves, MacNeice often seems the presiding influence: from the “going here, going there, getting nowhere” of “Rush Hour”, where “traffic passes like money”, to the grievous excesses and grim characters of the title poem’s sprawling dreamscape; from the jump cuts of “Everyone a Stranger” with its odd mixture of the sinister and absurd, to the vision of Death as a loan shark in “The Debt Collector”, which views life through the lens of financial crisis.
Yet, while the thematic scope of certain poems justifies their length, others read as rambling bids for a significance they fail to deliver. “Looking Forward to Leave” convincingly adopts the voice of a female army cadet, skilfully segueing from the clarity of childhood to the confusions of war, but pieces such as “On Cloughey Beach”, though not without descriptive flair, lack both impetus and focus. Such misfires would be less frustrating if they came from a poet of less ample talents. What impresses most about Here Comes the Night is its capaciousness and inclusiveness. Lovers, police officers, gangsters; cyclists, revellers, soldiers and shelf-stackers: not many collections of verse nowadays are crowded with so many characters, while fewer still depict and inhabit them so fully, or so funnily. The book is too long by far: two protracted sonnet sequences pad it out to nearly 100 pages. But it also contains some highly memorable poems – not least the ambitious “On a Cold Evening in Edinburgh”, which bites and stings in the way Kafka recommended – leaving the lasting impression of a poet of invention and verve.
— Ben Wilkinson, TLS
Year Published: 2010
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 494 7
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 495 4
ISBN ebook: 978 1 85235 583 8