[See update, below]
Philip Gross’ contribution to a Quaker discussion on ‘non—theism’ is amazing: he speaks fast, weaving his own poems into what he says (sometimes breaking into one with no pause), and succeeds in deepening any listener’s thoughts about that word ‘God’ – there’s an unusual and strong sense of real wrestling with big, personal questions, wrestling both to understand as well as to attempt to express that understanding. So it was with joy that I found two volumes of his poetry at the Woodbrooke Study Centre; I bought the earlier of the two.
Deep Field is a sequence of poems about Gross’ father’s progressive deafness and aphasia (the inability to speak). The subject matter and the poetic material are powerful and moving, and particularly in the first poem (“Scry”) I was reminded of the sound of Gross’ voice from the Quaker discussion. After a first excited and delighted read I returned to the book a few weeks later and picked up where I’d left off, and couldn’t continue to the end. At first I imagined it was the form and layout (many of the poems are medium-length segments of larger series, it’s all free verse, with some of the meaning conveyed by how the words are set out on the page with indents and unconventional spacing), but then realised it was probably that what was being said didn’t seem (at least to my impatient eyes) to be changing or developing. The same images and ideas kept circulating – silence, language, the sea. Perhaps these poems take more time and effort from the reader than I can currently offer them – certainly the family circumstances described by Gross do.
Just read Carol Rumens’ review of Gross’ Later[^1], and she does a much better, and more positive, job of describing Gross’ style:
The stepped irregular, spreading forms of Gross’s late style ensure moments of searching and doubt are part of the texture
That’s it – thanks.]
[^1]: Poetry Review, Volume 104:1 Spring 2014 p114f