The North End of the Possible by Andrew Philip: review

Linlithgow-based poet, Andrew Philip, was much praised for his first collection, ‘The Ambulance Box’.  His second collection, ‘The North End of the Possible’, (Salt, £12.99 RRP) is a powerful volume of verse which subtly shakes any residual complacency from the reader. 

English and Scotoexist easily but the power of the poetry is the complexity of ideas and images which it encompasses.  It pays tribute to Norman MacCaig and to Derek Thomson.

The seeming incomprehensibility of life’s purpose troubles Philip.  MacAdam, the relentlessly searching son of man who narrates more than half the poems in this volume, describes himself as “trauchled by the paraphernalia of a life spent tinkering”, but trauchled though he be, he continues to tinker and to meander through life’s enraging small crises.

Yet for all the seriousness of much of the subject matter, this is a warm and witty collection.  In ‘On Holding’, MacAdam rages impotently against that bane of modern life, the automated telephone messages advising the caller that his “call is important to us” and playing potted excerpts from Vivaldi.  And Philip, like MacAdam, indulges in the frustrated ire directed at systems too powerful and too irrational to be avoided, let alone to control.

The Christ-like MacAdam’s fate is uncertain and he knows that emptiness looms always close at hand.  “It is not far the desert.  It is not far.” His activities lead to his arrest, on suspicion of something unspoken”, and to a Kafkaesque interrogation where he is repeatedly reminded of his right to silence.

Andrew Philip’s verse is intelligent, sensitive and attuned to the unspoken uncertainties of the grieving, the hurt and the lonely.  It articulates a quiet courage and asserts that in the maelstrom of life, with all its defeats and tragedies, there are values worth pursuing come what may.

The above article was first published in Lothian Life on 24 July 2013: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2013/07/the-north-end-of-the-possible-by-andrew-philip-review/

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