An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Shearsman Books 58 Velwell Road
ISBN 0 907562 50 7
£9.95 [$15.95]

Shearsman Books
ISBN 978 1 905700 35 6
£8.95 [$15]

email Shearsman
visit the website of Shearsman
read a poem by Colin Simms on Pickings

NHI review home page
FAQ page
Notes for Publishers

book reviews
other media

Web design by Gerald England
This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

The selected bibliography lists more than forty pamphlets of poetry. This, however, is a more substantial book of work. Influenced obviously by Basil Bunting, with whom he is sometimes compared, Simms is more prolific than his mentor. Close observation coupled with a precision in the use of words combine to create poems full of life that flows as sleekily as the subject:

	Decoy backswamp willowgarth jetty
	duckweed decked dimple spread stippled to ripples
	when a prime carnivore turns aside to reach elderberries
	this un's              leading           fur freedom
The book is in two sections, the first devoted to poems concerning otters of all kinds. Witness WORKING THE OTTER:
	my otter derived from a toy destroyer
	cut from solid        by Uncle Bill long since lost superstructures
	(struck on with glue water and rough usage loosened
	we drilled her side as for oars and stuck dowels in rows
	each to carry its line and beetle-baited hook
	different lengths — some just pricked fish
	(caught a crab) some caught fish the real otter took!
Simms doesn't write about otters in isolation though — they interact with birds and other animals as in the poem OTTER IN FLOODS, Garrigill 1982:
	Yet he is not wet yet, never is (it)
	and how far before me has he run it
	and why? To surprise a water vole?
	No riverside birds at this season
	save the dipper (and the mighty heron).
	Wrens and dunnocks, though, they come
	and others attracted by the debris, scrum
Although martens have their own section, they invade the otter section too. We meet them in a prose poem MEETING A RIVERINE MARTEN WHILST WAITING FOR OTTER, SOUTH TYNESIDE 1967:
The marten halts short of where the otter had, some weeks before, when he also got my scent; a function of the breeze moving riverside trees a little, a breeze noticeable to me only along the river.
A poem in the second section describes a marten in a chestnut tree:
	Attentive to pigeons, or this winter's partridges?
	for blood-pumps on all the ground his eye sees
	are as prey to him as those are in his trees
	and he is not standing still but he is planning
	his dash and his kiss-at-the-neck, his prey-play
	which will choke no-less-than the leopard's caress.
Another poem concerns the sound of the marten
	weak as the sound is, it's
	squeaking of sucking kits
	sits on the slight frost still
	deeper than rats behind wainscot
	nearer than night stands itself:
	a calm on it. No harm to them
	of the morning to come, if God will
	forester; special apical-meristem
	fills new rare life at her tits.
which reminds me of the time I visited Colin Simms, when he was curator of the Yorkshire Museum in York in the 70s. He had a mating pair of martens in the house and a chap from Selby had come to make a recording of them using one of those old huge reel-to-reel tape recorders.

Wildlife enthusiasts should enjoy the tales and descriptions in this book and it might even give them a taste for strongly crafted wordwise poetry. At the same time, poetry-lovers might find in this book an insight into the fascinating world of these creatures. It is a book ready to delight both sets of readers.

reviewer: Gerald England.

As a birdwatcher I was immediately drawn to this book. GYRFALCON POEMS is a collection of poetry, illustrations and short essays based on Simm's close observations of gyrfalcons, the largest of the falcons, over half a century. This poetry is full of the wildness of the birds and of their chosen exposed habitats in Northern countries. Simms is not always a straightforward poet but he is never wilfully difficult and his words are written with such a love of language that they are worth reading over and over. His descriptions are both precise but playful as in PAIR GYR NEAR NEST:

	Ravel, unravel, avalanche their
	tumble — only the edge is dread
This is a writer who is very aware of how rhythm and rhyme work and how poetry sounds. However the fascination with and commitment to the sound of the words, never leads to empty experimentation, there is always something to be said. DUMB TO THE CRESCENDO / NUMB ON RUTLAND HEAD is an excellent example:
	stiff wings stiff winds' fulmars cannot soar
	storm silence nudges us, rumbles within —roar
	definite defence is rumour, violence's various colour
	hues different, views not fewer, blues' edge temper
	out over the Sound
Simms shows skill in making even detailed biological and geographical information into poetry, this extract is from GYR:
	broader than the buzzard and longer, malevolence freed
	more than ravens', coarser than the peregrines'
	and yet grander
The reader really learns about this rare bird of prey, its diet, its behaviour, its habitats and the need to protect these habitats as WOULD BE FALCONERS concludes:
	Men who deliver shocks to what they call 'nature'
	unwittingly or wittingly ignore the real riches
	for their own gain, to their own loss, our spells
This is a wonderful book for everyone who loves poetry and the natural world. Put it in your backpack next time you go for a hike — just in case you find gyrfalcoms when you're out there!

reviewer: Juliet Wilson.