Review: Mark Granier’s Haunt Reviewed by Emma Lee for the High Window Press
The title poem of Mark Granier’s new collection is about the poet’s late grandfather:
Is a ghost any less ghost if it’s a dream?
You’re tired, slightly stooped in your wine-red jumper,
grey sides of your bald head slick with Brylcreem.
Our eyes don’t meet. I know why we are here:
for you to begin again, retell each story
and me to finally listen, and remember.
The poem ends with the poet scrabbling to find something to write on and with. It sums up that regret of being too busy to spend time with someone who has passed on and the fear of missing some crucial detail in family history. It also plays on both meanings of ‘haunt’, the (dreamed) ghost haunting his grandson but also both players being in a familiar place. The rhyme scheme points to a rather conventional grandfather, although perhaps a hint of rebelliousness in the red jumper rather than a traditional beige or non-descript colour. It’s not clear if the grandfather from ‘Haunt’ is the same grandfather in ‘Keys’:
the cardboard and leather suitcase I inherited
from grandfather who’d kept it
under his bed, perhaps so he could sleep
on old letters, tinted postcards,
a big brass paddle and key
to a hotel room high in The Windy City.
It raises questions: who did the travelling, the grandfather or someone close enough to bother to send letters and postcards? Was the key a souvenier for the grandfather or did the grandfather actually stay in the hotel? It a way, it doesn’t matter. The point seems to be about the exploration of an unknown, unshared life. These were stories that were kept boxed away from the narrator which, if read in sequence with the title poem, adds a poignancy and extra urgency to those tales the ghost now needs to share with the narrator.
Haunt is dedicated to the poet’s mother so, unsurprisingly, many of the poems look back, assessing and exploring memories often without sentiment. The one weak point is a sequence ‘Academic’ which looks back to schooldays. One poem within this sequence is ‘Latin’ (complete poem):
Mr Banks’ drone could not be drier
as he conjugates: amo, amas, amat…
till a terrible drought rolls in along the Tiber,
the flagons empty, love itself gone flat.
How many monotone teachers have sentenced pupils to boredom? It’s the one place where Granier doesn’t stretch beyond the surface. Elsewhere he picks up on generational contrasts, in ‘New York Stopover, 1966’, his mother at the age of 93 can remember an incident where a jewellery store was burgled although New Yorkers didn’t let it disrupt the flow of their day:
passers by passing, sirens again, the incident
gathering itself and rolling off
to curve round a different bend on the same circuit)
– the same steam
I woke to a decade laterimmersed
in Taxi Driver‘s neon-and-brimstone.”
This contrasts with a contemporary teenager in ‘Thigh Gap’
Nah, take a selfie
of your fuck-off grin, that selkie
you can never quite shed,
who’ll tell you when you’re being bled
of what you know – the truth:
Beauty is a brute.
This isn’t the only poem where the poet explores something outside his immediate experience. ‘Cochlear Implant’ ends:
shoes creaking into the fresh snow’s crust
in the library of small sounds where satsumas
get peeled very slowly and Basho’s frog goes plop!
cupped in that haiku, along with its pond
and summer’s trembling meniscus.”
The ‘meniscus’ could just as easily refer to the cochlear implant which picks up sound waves, converting them to electrical pulses to stimulate the ear drum which then ‘hears’ the sound as if it weren’t impaired. It’s not perfect but it does open or re-open a world of sound, particularly the small sounds such as the crunch of snow or crinkle of a plastic bag.
Haunt has an elegiac feel to it but the poems are infused with craft and, in places, wit and sharp observations. They share vulnerability and regret, showing what it is to be human. Although personal, the poems are not insular, the poet wants to share his experiences so readers can learn from them too.
‘s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert
(Indigo Dreams, 2015). She was a co-editor for the poetry anthology Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge
(Five Leaves, 2015). She reviews for The Journal, London Grip, Sabotage
and The High Window
and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com