Second Glance: Ron Scowcroft, Oversteps Books
Ron Scowcroft lives in Lancaster. His pamphlet Moon Garden was published by Wayleave Press in 2014 and his full collection Second Glance by Oversteps Books in 2022. A number of poems in the latter have won prizes or been shortlisted in competitions, and you can understand why.
Second Glance is divided into three sections – ‘Peninsula’, ‘Care’, and ‘Sharing Territories’. ‘Peninsula’ includes a number of fine poems about wildlife, including ‘Storks at Odeceixe’, about a clifftop colony in Portugal. Images of motherhood suffuse this poem: “they brace swells that belly deep from the Atlantic … whilst the Alentejo burns itself infertile … fresh as infant humanity learning to swim the air”. There are also poems about kingfishers, greylag geese, dolphins, and the title poem ‘Second Glance’, about the companionable delights of watching birds together.
‘Freud in Blackpool’ reflects Scowcroft’s Lancashire background, while ‘My Father’s Phonograph’ is a beautiful poem about shared musical tastes, which struck a chord with me. Scowcroft muses on changing technology, ending with a poignant and affirmative reference to Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man:
This before digital when everything began
on the outer rim and worked inward, getting smaller,
until Dad hit the ungrooved bit at the centre,
stumbled repeated, stumbled repeated
then disappeared, round about
random play and the first CD,
when he stepped into a diamond sky
with one hand waving free.
The second section, ‘Care’, contains poems of extraordinary empathy and understanding. They focus on care home residents, emphasising their individuality, even when personalities are eroded by dementia. There are poems about the ‘sharing’ of possessions in such places, the casual cruelty of ‘First to Go’, how things can quickly become surreal: “It started with socks …” (‘John’). ‘Felicity’ looks at how the vulnerable elderly can be fleeced by strangers and family.
In the final section, ‘Shared Territories’, a poem called ‘Basking Shark’ lures the reader into what appears at first to be a wildlife sighting in Scotland, before the final three lines reveal its true menace, “ … the conning tower / of a hunter-killer / heading south out of Faslane.” Wilfred Owen’s ‘pity of war’ is to the fore in ‘Medal’, about a maimed first world war survivor, while ‘Kite Flying at Porlock Weir, Easter 1982’ captures well the distance felt by most Britons from events in the Falklands war, far away in the South Atlantic. On the other hand, ‘Dog in a Minefield’ and ‘Sharing Territories’ really take you there, to the “cordite reek of guano and murmuring” of a penguin colony in East Falkland, likening the penguins facing the sea “as if waiting repatriation” to the “prisoners we took at Stanley”. One of the final poems in this collection is ‘Walking in Kyiv’, about that city’s previous catastrophe, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster: “Anna left, met a foreigner she didn’t love / and married him. Our men, she said, / drank too much, produced rotten fruit.” They need and seem to be of sterner stuff these days.
In this assured and versatile collection Ron Scowcroft has distilled his poetic skills and craft within varied subject matter. His thoughtful, intelligent poems are indeed well worth a second glance, and several more.
Ron Scowcroft, Second Glance, Oversteps Books, £8
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