Sunshine at the end of the world: Chris Hardy, Indigo Dreams
Chris Hardy has lived in Asia, Africa, and other parts of Europe, and in a number of his poems in his fourth collection, Sunshine at the end of the world, he is drawn to seas and oceans, flirting with and floating towards the edge of things.
There is the coral that leads to a “black, sheer drop”, where swimming is like “flying from a cliff” in ‘Where we can live’. Another poem is titled ‘Fathom’, and the title poem speaks of a desire to be buried at sea, with flowers that would “from far below /resemble stars”. A liquid quality is also there in the first poem in the collection, ‘Pulse’, in which a child’s first appearance is likened to coming down “in the dark / from a globe of water.”
There is also often a sense of unease. One poem describes a rat scrabbling inside a cavity wall, and a couple powerless as “the tireless gnawing / crawled upstairs and into bed between us.” (‘Behind closed doors’). ‘Up the garden path’ concerns a chance meeting with a an acquaintance who reveals that her husband is having an affair, and examines the listeners’ reactions, the final two lines delivered with a world-weariness worthy of Larkin:
… unspoken thoughts about
our own complacent hours apart,
… delayed at work,
car out of gas, too busy to reply,
missed the bus, the traffic …
All that’s always true,
and always is a lie.
A number of the poems are written in short lines, and occasionally these are made to bear a weight that they cannot quite sustain. ‘On schedule’ feels as though there is more to be said:
The walkway edging out
the cold light corridor
we walk along
into an empty, quiet,
where someone wants to check
we are allowed to enter.
The poems ‘Red, white and blue’ and ‘To sleep’, on the other hand, have a satisfying depth and interest, linking the death of a grandmother in Calcutta, and her daughter sent home to England, and then a mother’s last wishes: “My ashes to be with my father and Rose, / but please a small portion to my mother’s grave / in Calcutta, where she lies in ground I own, / that will be yours.”
The first world war poem, ‘Certificate of Exemption’, is equally absorbing, describing how a temporary exemption lasting until 1 October 1917 no longer applied when Haig was forced to delay his battle plans because of the weather, “requiring, perhaps, William Prothero / to go to Passchendaele”. It’s a poem derived from an old, discovered document; the line “But then it rained, like August in Radnor” has a particular pathos.
There is a breadth to this collection that crosses the oceans, and an impressive list of print magazine and online publishing credits at the front of the book. Chris Hardy also plays guitar with the group Little Machine, performing their settings of famous poems, although he does not discuss his musical role here. Instead, this collection reinforces his reputation as a poet in his own right.