Published: 28/02/2016
ISBN: 9781784625191
Format: Paperback

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About the Author

Michael Pickering was born in Derby, England, in 1935, and attended Bemrose School. He is a graduate of University College, Oxford, and a doctor of theoretical linguistics. He has taught English in... read more

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The Compass Dances
by Michael Pickering

The Compass Dances is a collection of poems written from 1955 to 2015; the work of almost a lifetime. Influenced by the author’s long absence from England, this strikingly original collection provides unique reflection on simultaneously writing in two languages, far away from the familiarity of home.

The compass waltzes
that holds me
in check.
Its polarity
cannot reverse
if I live.

With a nod to postmodernism, the process of authorial construction is left deliberately exposed. Asides and footnotes are used to signpost the reader and provide insight into the inspiration behind Pickering’s writing. There are also many poems whose compelling inner force needs no explanation, appearing to have sprung fully formed from the mind of their creator. Included in the collection is “Cosmos”, a long poem for dramatic performance, which has been described by a producer as "a remarkable juxtaposition of the mythologies of various traditional cultures with the scientific story of the Cosmos, which is powerfully emotive”.

Michael’s familiarity with more complex languages than English (notably Finnish) and, paradoxically, simpler (notably Italian) makes The Compass Dances a unique collection that will appeal to all poetry lovers.

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Books Monthly

Poetry comes to him naturally. Sometimes complex, sometimes direct. The voice has hardly changed with time. From the very beginning there is a mastery of language and an ability to transmute everyday events beyond the obvious. This is not easy reading with easy sentiments. It has to be read slowly, carefully, to find the multiple allusions within. Nor can you say it belongs to any poetic school. It is truly unique. It so happens that I have known the writer for most of my life but, from the very beginning, I have been-and am still-l astounded by what he has produced.

by Peter Dean

Michael Pickering has selected one hundred and sixty-nine poems (one hundred and eighty-three if you count the twenty-four sections of his long poem Cosmos as separate poems) for his self-publication The Compass Dances, representing his writing over six decades to 2015, and a lifetime’s work. He is multi-voiced: there are poems in Italian and Finnish in this selection. So a poet in at least three languages, who ranges over a very wide field: people and all their doings, time and place, mysticism and the universe, nature, comedy, childhood and love.
The opening poem, MOMENT, draws many of these strands together. The title might simultaneously refer to a scientific notion, magnetic moment; to a visual mnemonic known as Fleming’s right-hand rule for relating three-dimensional vectors; and to an intense experience, perhaps a waltz, shared in time by two individuals. The title yokes science and poetry together. It is not the only example: there is also, amongst others, COSMOS, an epic poem in twenty-four sections with COMMENTARY, which
…describes the early history of the Universe and particularly of the Earth. The poem stands on two legs: one is current theory in cosmology and geology – the other creation myth.
The threefold aspect of MOMENT never disappears – number is one of Michael’s preoccupations: the poem is structured in a complex argument in three sections; the Fleming Rule’s three fingers become the three corners/of Earth and a reference grid for Michael’s travels, for his life, grounded in physical facts – Not/in the head alone. This is tight metaphysical writing, achieved in stripped-down language. The line length is meticulously judged; rhyme sparingly used. There are repeated patterns, reminiscent of oral poetry and the Psalms.
In RETURN AT DUSK ON A MOTORBIKE, which incorporates found poetry, the strained syntax (…thunder ran/is the get up and go of the grass…), kept in tension by judicious use of the line end, simultaneously enacts the hurtling speed of the motorbike and disordered nature (…rainbow… cloud… mile-gobbling thunder… get up and go of the grass …of the hill it has hurried from.). Everything in the poem’s movement is held together by the notion of entropy somewhere below the surface. This is not unusual in Michael’s poetry.

This is just to indicate the many voices in the collection. With tighter editing for this collection – many of the poems have been individually edited and published - some of the voices and notes might not be there and the collection might have achieved a greater unity. Meanwhile, why not allow the poet to close with the ending of COSMOS

And, according to Thoth’s
design, El flew
with two wings open
and two wings folded;
flew while at rest,
and rested while flying;
two that were open, and
two closed;
watched while he slept,
and slept,
while watching.

by Bill Jenkinson

I really enjoyed this delightful collection of feelings, thoughts and images, a poetic trip through time and the writer's life. I find that the poems have a purifying effect that I attribute to their authenticity, and their freedom from social 'noise' and the limitations represented by everyday speech. It is as if they offer a glimpse into different worlds.
I understand the interpretations that the writer gives at times as optional, and representing another example of his thought. Every single detail appears to serve the aesthetic that the writer with great respect passes to the potential reader.

by Marianna Siapera


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