Being There, the second poem in the collection, is a horrifying remix of The Twits crossed with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The dastardly villains of Roald Dahl‘s revenge fantasy are duped into standing on their heads, where they are glued to the floor. There they remain until catching the shrinks, a disease that causes the head to shrink into the neck, the neck into the body…
As a child, this was a horrific prospect but in describing his father, Harrold pulls Dahl’s grotesque disease out of fiction and into the heart-breakingly domestic. ‘And now he’s becoming smaller and smaller, / as if his clothes manage to remain life-size / while he falls away, deeper into the distance.’ The ironically active verb ‘becoming’ quietly articulates the futile effort involved in wasting away. However, his helpless fall hints that this is just a matter of perspective: the man is still there if you know where to look. He hasn’t really grown smaller. The physical regression is coupled with a mental one, as his father ‘glid[es] back to infancy, the grown man gone’. The caesura helps to create the chasm between present and lost faculties but again Harrold’s treatment of ageing is complex and ambivalent, as gliding is freeing and gentle.
Harrold recalls a childhood memory, ‘a small child photographed in the garden, / dressed in only a t-shirt and his milkman’s hat. / And I am aware of how little separates us, now and then / as he stands quiet in the front room, in just his vest’. There’s a touching intimacy here, and Harrold’s delicate control of the past and present comments upon his relationship with his father: the milkman’s hat a crown passed from father to son. There’s also a chilly awareness of the passing of generations. In theme and technique, Being There reminds me of Hardy‘s The Roman Road, but his informal diction is more like Andrew Motion‘s heart-breaking Passing On.
On Love, however, seems the perfect antidote, opening with a breathless, excited series of statements: ‘It is night now. This is moonlight. That the Evening Star’. The pace of the statements echoes Matthew Arnold‘s Dover Beach, but On Love initially appears to be its polar opposite, as ‘The night is too short for philosophy’. Instead, the heart says that all love ‘can be contained in the keening of a single thin fingertip’. In this final killer line Harrold readmits wordless grief and the biting cold. Suddenly, the oblivion of Arnold’s pebble-tossed beach beckons.
Harrold sticks with the time-tested themes of sex and death. Who could ask for anything more? His voice is warm and it is a pleasure to wander the deep waters and shoals of his mind.