The Lookout Post
€12.95 – €19.50
The Lookout Post, Kevin Graham’s first collection, is a book of uncommon poise and range. It includes harrowing accounts of illness, a suicide, and joyous celebrations of fatherhood and family life. Surprising revelations — ‘And it strikes me there is only / the moment’ (‘The Knack’) and ‘It’s both enough and never enough’ (‘Weathering’) — match original detail — ‘the worried frown // knitted on his brow didn’t drop a stitch’ (‘The Lesson’). Whether it’s in the extended sequence, ‘Sketches’, which draws on the letters of Van Gogh, or shorter poems which pay homage to Wendell Berry, Zinedine Zidane and Derek Mahon or ruminate on Elizabeth Bishop’s sojourn in Ireland, The Lookout Post seamlessly melds the ordinary and the literary. As the book’s title might suggest this is a collection of acutely observed reflection by an outstanding new and assured voice.
'For years now Kevin Graham’s formal skill and emotional power have marked him out as a rare poetic talent.' — Ciarán O’Rourke
Kevin Graham’s The Lookout Post (Gallery Press, €19.50/ €12.95), is concerned with life at its extremities of grief and hope. Encompassing poems of illness, parenthood, music and ecological concern, it is the latter thread — immersion in the natural world — which weaves these strands together. Graham is a master of the imperceptible turn which elevates a poem from intimately observed miniature to something more cinematic in scope.
The collection’s title poem positions the speaker as an observer, taking as its central image a second World War-era concrete bunker. ‘Forty days and nights I’ve spent/in this concrete bunker you wouldn’t/swing a cat in.’ At the poem’s end, nature provides a calm centre in an unpredictable world: ‘Shags spree//on the wind, fall away in their flight/as war broods, left to right.’
However, the natural world is vulnerable, and is often a means to channel the frailty of human life in poems such as ‘Science Fiction’, a masterclass in capturing the folding of time that occurs when we are confronted with death” ‘He rests his skull/on the pillow like a specked egg/in a nest of twig and down.’ The poem finished with the deft imagistic juxtaposition of a flatlining pulse monitor and a vision of a world both beautiful and desolate: ‘the wide world swimming/into view without him.’
There are also tender poems of parenthood here, shot through with joy and anxiety magnified by the poet’s sensitivity to the ache of things passing. In ‘Principles of Fatherhood’, ‘. . . a lark’s nest jammed/between branches is falling apart’, and as the poet’s child moves away from him in a playground, the poet observes:
‘Chirrups on a limb, the world faith with pain.
Where is he going? How far? I follow,
watch him part the brightening air.’
— Jessica Traynor, The Irish Times
Publication date: 28 April 2023
ISBN PBK: 978 1 91133 849 9
ISBN HBK: 978 1 91133 850 5
Cover: ‘Portrait of Ruben’ by Susan Dubsky (2016), watercolour reproduced by kind permission of the artist
Author photograph: Mark Nixon