A moving collection in three parts that begins and ends in Holland, in low land that is not only visually arresting, but a powerful metaphor for the journey from childhood and first love to brokenness and the long march back to life; changed and wistful, but never sentimental.
The language is as pared down and stark as the landscape; emotion bristles between the lines, but remains controlled and precise, and between the moments of darkness, light and humour seep in. A consummate performer of his work as well as a gifted writer, Kemp keeps his tone varied so we feel for the awkward boy who imagines himself as James Bond, able to do so much ‘Or just have a quip ready for Gary Murray / as he pasted my face into the playground wall.’ (Bond) And on a family holiday we keep score of with his sister of who falls in the canal and hear ‘that quiet plop / as our parents bickered / about some lock’ (Dutch River) and finally returning changed. Linguistically adept and full of emotional range, there is a subtle narrative arc in Lowland so that a book of Roman and Greek myths given to the young poet shows the way ‘those kings / packed their daughters’ suitors off / to slaughter’, foreshadowing events to come. And in the chilling, lyrically tight poem ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ with an epigraph from Anne Frank it is not only the historical girl of whom it’s true that ‘The inescapable truth is that / we know the end before the start.’ As love blossoms, loss and breakdown loom: ‘Just the dark of a storm, this swarm of black wings / over the standing corn; / and that dirt track though / its centre, leading nowhere.’ (Ravens over cornfields). Finally there is reprise: lyrical, wistful, mature, a sense of life’s canvas being ‘both scattered / and as one’ // …’with its cries /from long ago’. A powerful, poignant and deeply satisfying collection.