by Rob Harle

First published - Spinning Spider Publications, 1996
Second edition – Cyberwit, 2023. ISBN: 978-81-19228-50-8. INR 200

Reviewed by Adrian Rogers-Gawler

Lest we be tempted to think that writing in a free-verse style is easier than rhymed verse, this reviewer is assured---from perusing Rob Harle’s ‘Scratches and Deeper Wounds’, that it is not. Rhyming may impose restrictions, but it also offers support, for instance as a way of keeping a poem going when the imagination is beginning to run short of ideas.

However, Rob Harle--in this collection displays no shortage of both ideas, often quite searing images, and, as one will observe from the following quotation, his free verse never reads or sounds like chopped up prose...

“The uniformed and drugged misfits
go floating onwards, past
and egos, grossly over size
strut the dirty street
stoned beyond courtesy’s convention
with paranoia etched deeply
into empty faces, void.

And then pure love flows by...”

and that is on just the first page.

On page 9 the title ‘Chthonian Vaults’ reminded me--rightly or wrongly, of H.P. Lovecraft in its opening lines...

“Androgyny rises swollen and ripe
tempting, it caresses your mind easily
like the taste of melting chocolate...”

These vivid, if somewhat lurid lines do little to disperse my initial impression of Lovecraft’s influence. And as for the ‘Genetic Engineer--the Man who would be        
God’, Rob sums up the truth of what genetic engineering really is---in relation to human beings, quite mercilessly...

“...his mission to map the human genotype
to store on-ff on-off on-off
in a dark digital compression creche,
the secrets of all life...”

So, it goes on, with masks, the transitory, philosophic imagery, the computer chip, God’s new mask, the Philosopher’s Stone, and that is only scratching the surface. To read through the collection though takes one far beyond the surface, to where Scratches--to quote the title, become much deeper wounds.

There is, as we know a time and a place for lighter verse, romance, and simple, joyful depictions of all that is beautiful in our world, but---more than ever today we need poets who will recall us to the harder truths, exposing those mechanistic, soulless behaviours so often advocated and exemplified by those who should know better, and whose motives must therefore be suspect.

Finally, I will quote a few lines from ‘The Ultimate Metaphor’, which relate to whaling...

“The obscenity of life and death
is celebrated in the House of Slaughter
offal transmutes to cheese and crackers
wine splashes like urine, cheaply
against the cool room walls...”

One suspects that---as a poet, Rob Harle would not have lasted long in the Middle Ages, though one is also tempted to ask...are we really so much more enlightened today? Perhaps it’s the Poet’s task to answer that question.

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