“the bat shit tapestries, the shattered wainscotting”

Music Field, Jim Maguire, Poetry Salzburg, £9.50
reviewed by Kathrine Sowerby

Jim Maguire studied music in Dublin where he worked as a music journalist and with Music Field, his first collection, he invites the reader into the world of classical music and introduces its characters: the page-turner, the examiner, members of the audience and the instruments and musicians themselves. In the collection’s more intriguing poems (‘Worship’, ‘Turning’) he steps out of this world and finds music in everyday situations and places.

Sometimes the poems tempt with an insider’s knowledge and we learn something, which I enjoy. In ‘Sinking the Piano’: “… Mozart’s/ sister Nannerl whose musical lights went out/ as her brother took centre stage.” And in ‘DuParc: A Programme Note’: “Spare a thought for Henri Duparc,/ re-inventor of the French melodie/ who left just seventeen songs.”

Sometimes the poems tell stories (Maguire has published a collection of short fiction, Quiet People: Korean Stories) and I occasionally found myself distracted, keeping track of pronouns but found the playfulness of ‘Glenn Gould’s Chair’, written from the perspective of the chair, particularly engaging.

The poem that brought me to the edge of my seat with its imagery, possibilities and immediacy was the titular ‘Music Field’: “Then comes the bit he’s been practicing for years/ but still can’t get his hands around. The melody’s/ giddy unwrapping above the distressed inner parts,/ the bass-line an unimpressed patriarchal yawn.” Characters appear: “Lady Lavery as Caitlin” and a boy with “his hair full of flowers” and the poem ends tantalisingly with “…Two unrelated themes/ in a field, slow-circling, waiting for the trouble to begin.”

As someone whose musical tastes are covered by Radio 6, I felt welcome in this unfamiliar world and free to explore. Sometimes I had to listen carefully to hear the music of the language over the poem’s subject matter but I was rewarded when I did with lines like “unexpectedly revived/by the bat shit tapestries,/ the shattered wainscotting” in ‘Pulse’.

Published by Poetry Salzburg, this full-length collection has an understated appearance and its expansive content could easily be overlooked. These are poems to return to and to catch the changes in tempo and the jaunt in poems like ‘Allegro’: “I pull my hand through my wavy snookerhair/ and imitate a man who knows all the angles.”

Kathrine Sowerby

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