Following the critical success of his debut volume, Protestant Windows, Sam Gardiner’s 2007 collection, The Night Ships, demonstrated once again the Portadown-born poet’s considerable lyric virtues: a determination to be precise in his use of language; a painful and disarming candour; a playfully self-deprecating sense of humour; and a profound understanding of the hope and sadness underlying modern existence.
Whether writing of his childhood in provincial Ulster or of his adult life in England, the steady creep of age and the realisation of one’s own mortality, or ruminating on the interplay of art and life, Gardiner speaks with a deft assurance, allied to a formidable intellectual and poetic armoury. Gardiner sadly passed away in May 2016, having published three poetry collections with Lagan, a winner of major literary prizes, and as a critically acclaimed important voice in Northern Ireland poetry.
My brother has 23 mirrors
on his Lambretta, said the glazier,
as he closed an opening
with a sheet of raindrops.
Perhaps his brother saw the world
transformed when he grew tall enough
to see himself in mirrors, see how
a world looked with him in it.
Later, when the stuttering started,
did he too carry a well concealed
talking glass? Did a quick peek
tell him he looked the same
as everyone else, and didn’t need
to stammer his head off
any more than they did? And
did the glass keep getting smashed?
Look, quick, the glazier gasped,
pointing his eyes at a slow gull
beating across the wet slate roof
above a dark imposter.
Scientists Have Discovered
that trees become seasonably depressed
by lack of sunlight, exhibit symptoms of stress,
worry about losing limbs to autumn gales,
and are terrified of carpenters.
Carpenters are saw-toothed and unforgiving,
like my neighbour the baritone, who loathes
windborne leaves and after choir practice
brushes them into tousled stacks,
saves them till my shirts are on parade
and my windows agape, and then burns them.
Trees have no feelings for those who have,
they jack up flagstones and crack walls,
step out in front of sons’ cars, black the light
by day, and howl all night round the pergola.
Give me three good reasons for trees,
he choruses across the fence, or even two.
And the courtyard birch behind me hisses,
Give me one good reason for reason,
and launches above his head two or three
leaves it has made from sunshine and clay.