This weekend I’ve been re-reading Accurate Measurements, the fine first collection by Adam White. Published by Doire Press, it’s been deservedly shortlisted for this year’s Forward Prize for best first collection. I had the privilege of launching the book last April in Galway’s Crane Bar and I thought I might post a few of my comments here:
This is a young poet who, over a scarily compressed time period, has taught himself to take accurate measurements, who has grasped the knack of weighing and balancing stanzas, who has come to intimately know the grain of his material, who has learned to fix line against line in toque and tension.
Indeed the book’s physicality is one of its greatest pleasures. For this is work that realises the felt surfaces of life in all their granularity and smoothness. Take for example the apprentice who must mount the scaffolding in order to to ‘smooth and stamp / the sand of the company’s seal’, or the ‘heft’ of waste while a spade slices soil or the coarseness of ‘lead heavy and lumpen nails’. Especially tactile are the poems about fishing with their depictions of rough gut and slack lines tensing.
This is a poet who, as he so memorably puts it, speaks ‘from the hands’. Yet this is also very much a poetry of intellect. White successfully interrogates and perhaps even undermines our assumptions about teaching and travel, about work and escape. His apprenticeship has lent him a deftly humorous touch, a wry and angled view of humanity and its doings. This may be a serious debut but it is also one with a darkly playful side, as White again and again upends readerly comfort, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with expectation.
White’s hard-won expertise is evident above all in his musicality; in phrases like ‘the dumb harmony left by the lump hammer’ which itself constructs a deft harmoniousness, or in the slipperiness of ‘any roof in slate is
like a tilted rink / and every horizontal’s bearing white’ or ‘rib cage shifting gears, stealing up endless steps of notes / and swapping jigs / with sails of wind to spare’, those jigging, jerking lines with which he so vividly renders the playing of the flutist from Savoie. I could go on. And on. For such expertly carved phrases litter this volume. And I envy those of you yet to purchase Accurate Measurements the pleasure of encountering them for the first time.
The winners of this year’s Forward Prizes will be announced in London later this week. Fingers crossed.