“the terrible” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – poetry review

In this second collection, Daniel Sluman explores living with a disability and the impact on his life and on the lives of those around him with an unflinching honesty using language stripped of extraneous detail. The “smoke” in “killing the darling of smoke” could be both literal and metaphor,

” having left

your joy between the sheets the loneliness
that enters the window that coming flings

open this rehearsal gasp bookmarking
each moment when you’re single

& crying into your father’s arms
as he did with his father before him

you sit in your bruise-blue dressing gowns
& pull cigarettes from separate packs

inhaling between sips of black coffee
this comma puncturing a sentence

neither of you can bear to finish
only the familiar tug of smoke

a mantra the hardest to kill
that chants death death death”

The familial similarities in their dressing gowns and taste for black coffee is counterpointed by the separate cigarette packets. This father and son are, rightly, both linked and independence. In contrast, “doppelganger” explores dependence and ends

“& you’ll say you can’t bear this weight in a week
you’d rather be alone than with this crumpled mess
of apologies & mistakes that shakes in the corner
of the bedroom a towel over my shoulders
that once tensed over your pupil’s bloom
I’ll keep this lightning trapped in my hip
my strange weather the dent I sank into
will rise from the sofa in a mist
of cologne and possibilities”

It exposes that fear of someone else’s initial enthusiasm of being with you drain when they come to realise how much care they will have to give. It can be a large dent in a male ego when one can’t be the provider but needs care. Exposing and sharing those needs is a vulnerable time as it risks ending what could have been a promising start of a relationship and that fear never quite leaves even in very long term relationships.

“the terrible” isn’t all gloom. In “they say you will become what you think about the most” sees the poet looking through his girlfriend’s eyes until “the evening starts to fill the glass the stitches of you dress/ unwind in the dark & I’m left/ with nothing but the memory/ of staring from behind those/ green-flecked eyes.”

The title poem explores the aftermath of the bone cancer that led to disability. It ends,

“today emily fills my eyes in our grubby basement flat
each time I tell her I love her my heart crushes
like a paper cup the diamond winces on her hand
its brightness weighing us down in shadow”

The longing sense of regret is reprised in “we’ll never dance”,

“as you’re drawn through the ballroom

once again by someone who can lift you

to the light like crystal but just as the dance
is a controlled demolition of the body

I spasm & fall into this crippled choreography.”

“the terrible” looks likes a series of minimalist, muscular poems, yet the intense exterior is able to reveal nuance and shade shaping relationships. The poems reach out to draw the reader in and fizz with vital necessity: the poet had to write them in order to share experiences of chronic pain and loss tempered with tenderness and also revealing pleasure and love.

“the terrible” is available from Nine Arches

My review of Daniel Sluman’s first collection “Absence has a weight of its own”.



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