A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time by Barry Clegg


Barry Clegg’s Poems: A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time

I always take a look on the authors’ table at the WEN breakfast meeting. After leafing through Barry Clegg’s first volume of poems, A Rare Spectacle, I trotted over to him and said,” I want to buy your book. I just read one of your poems and I know exactly what you mean.”

front cover Beginning of TimeThis was a rare experience for me. Not a habitual reader of poetry, I usually find myself more puzzled than enlightened if I venture into that genre. “What are you getting at?” I would like to ask the author. But if a poem needs explanation, either the reader or the poet has failed. Feeling that the failure must be mine, I tend to avoid poetry.

Barry Clegg offers welcome success. All the poems in his two collections tell me something on first reading. He uses familiar experience—encounters with sparrows or city noise or old friends or his own right hand. He has a long memory for the experience of childhood, and an acute sense of the experience of aging; these I know well.

But second and third readings reward even more than the first. It is in these that I enjoy Clegg’s playfulness and humour, appreciate the depth of his love for humankind, for music, and for the life of the mind. The ordinary is lifted up, turned over, illuminated. He takes sly pokes at us writers too. Try reading “Overbosity” or “Typso” in A Rare Spectacle without seeing something of yourself.

Writing poetry is often called an exercise in distillation, in concentrating the essence of experience is just a few telling words. In both A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time Barry Clegg has produced a fine vintage, to mix the metaphor. A hearty brew. A quality libation.

Isobel Raven

February, 2015