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by Landeg White 


ISBN 1 902638 30 1
Parthian, 2003
183pp, paperback
Retail price 7.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

Landeg White is a well-travelled poet, whose previous work has been published in countries as diverse as Malawi and Portugal, not to mention Wales.  He now teams up with Parthian, the highly respected independent publisher based in Cardigan, west Wales, to offer a volume of  “selected and new poems” written over a long period.  At 183 pages, most of which are taken up with actual print rather than the white space we are used to seeing, this is two or three times as long as the average volume of poetry, and deserves a corresponding level of attention.


An understanding of the cultures within which White has lived and worked would probably have been helpful in enabling me to appreciate his poems.  They are not short on lyricism:


“Dawn hung like dripping sailcloth

over the plumed reeds and papyrus…


drifted like an English drizzle.”


He doesn’t refer to a Welsh downpour, possibly because heavy rain is something he is used to seeing in Africa.  The so-called dark continent is the setting for a large proportion of these poems, and it is a setting where the picturesque (for want of a better word) is often at odds with an underlying discomfort, summed up in poems like Chimwalira (from a 1991 collection, The View from the Stockade) and Lusaka Blues (from 1983’s Captain Stedman).  Landeg White’s work has been published in languages other than English, and the linguist’s skills are apparent, together with the capacity for learning and the general rootlessness of the world traveller:


“Mid-May, Dafydd ap Gwilym’s

month, and burning (hot air

from Africa, say the weathermen).”


Thus he writes in Traveller’s Palm, his 2002 collection. 


It is hard to make these individual gems fit into a theme; who needs one, anyway?  A poem should be able to stand alone, and all of those collected here are short enough to enable the reader to find something that strikes a chord long before boredom or fatigue set in.  As if the geographical variations were not enough, history often intrudes, whether in the form of the Mozambique war of 1972 or the activities of Captain Bligh.  The broadening of the mind can run to an understanding of souls of the past as well as the people of other countries. 


This is, I feel, the key to these poems.  It is no accident that the book cover tells us nothing about the man.  How can we be told who he is, when he does not know himself?  Even when he comes home, to our home, to the north-east of England in the early twenty-first century, Landeg White continues a displaced person.  But not a disappointed one.

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