Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Review for Merlin's Lane

Robert Nisbet's Merlin's Lane has received an excellent review from Pembrokeshire Life Magazine.  
Merlin's Lane is published by Prolebooks and can be purchased here.

Merlin's Lane : A Review of Robert Nisbet's new poetry collection

By Phil Carradice

Poetry autobiographies rarely seem to work. Betjeman's “Summoned By Bells” and “The Angry Summer” by Idris Davies are rare examples of two that do – but now, I think, you can add another volume to that list. Robert Nisbet's “Merlin's Lane” is a vivid and compelling account of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in Haverfordwest.

The poetry is excellently conceived, well written and full of beautiful and striking images. But for Pembrokeshire readers it is the descriptions of the county – Haverfordwest and Milford Haven in particular – that will strike a chord. Nisbet catches the bygone days of the 40s and 50's, even the early 1960s, and presents them in a vivid series of word pictures that are not sentimental but which are certain to bring a catch to the voice or raise up the hairs on the back of your neck.

There are some wonderful moments here. I loved “King George the Sixth is Dead”  and the nonchalant way the news about the demise of this distant and obscure figure, previously glimpsed by the boys only on the backs of pennies or on newsreel shots, is given:-

“At the classroom door a lank-hired boy,
the errand runner, blushed and blurted,
Please sir, the King's dead.”

There are poems here about a striptease show at Portfield fair, about trips down places like Pembroke Main Street to play Monkton Swifts or Angle at football. There are poems about vacation jobs when the writer returns from University to work “behind the scenes” in the local butcher's shop and about the town carnivals that used to hold such an important position in Pembrokeshire life.

Naturally, with a story teller like Robert Nisbet, these are poems about place and people. They are the stuff of his literary life – he has, after all, spent thirty years capturing their every move and thought. Previously he has done it in prose, in a series of tightly woven short stories. This is his first poetry collection and it is one that is memorable for many reasons – mostly the writer's ability to take a small moment or incident and develop it into something significant and telling. People will read these poems and say “Why didn't I think of that?” And that is the true poet's art.

As someone who spent his early teaching career in Milford, the poems brought back many memories for me. Take this one, “A Postcard from Milford Haven,” as an example:-

“'Oh hear us when we pray to thee
for those in peril on the sea.'

Those stormy mornings we'd sing that hymn.
The fathers of many of the school
were out there, trawlers taught against
the seas of Finisterre, Tiree. And
as the singing swung into the heaves
and hollows of its verse, my blunt
neck-hairs tingled with the sharing

Short, sharp words but so telling. Anybody who remembers the fishing fleet of Milford Haven will enjoy – if that is the right word -  that emotion. And certainly anyone who ever stood in a school assembly hall and bellowed out those incredibly evocative verses whenever the wind blew and rain fell, will relate to this short but powerful poem.

'Merlin's Lane' is an excellent addition to the literature, not just of Pembrokeshire but to the whole of Wales. It is one man's telling of his life in a place he truly loves and, as such, it will surely become essential reading for anyone who feels the same about the county.

Pembrokeshire Life Magazine
Swan House
Bridge Street
Newcastle Emlyn
SA68 9DX

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