Guy Gavriel Kay,
Beyond This Dark House
(Penguin, 2003)

Guy Gavriel Kay is an internationally acclaimed author, renowned for his fantasy writing. Those who are acquainted with his work will know that his prose is poetic, and that poetry and music feature strongly in all his novels. It therefore comes as no surprise that he should now also prove himself to be an accomplished poet, or that the poems he offers are powerful, beautiful, intelligent and evocative.

The book is divided into five parts, the third part devoted to poems that present many varied aspects of classical mythology in a fresh new light; Orpheus, Medea, Psyche, gods and goddesses inhabit these pages, and Kay's word-craft brings elegant revelation and uncanny comprehension of the world that once was theirs. He writes of the timeless tragedy of the Arthurian legend, and as Guinevere, he emotes such sorrow and duality of love the legend seems to become real. "We cannot be other than/ we are. I loved two men. A kingdom/ broke for it. Something fell that was a star./ We cannot be other than we are." He has an unsettling gift at blending sorrow and joy, beauty and grief -- it is a strong cornerstone within the fiction of his novels, and it surfaces time and again in his poems, both abstract and deeply personal. Even if the reader is not familiar with the myriad of Kay's educated references, the poems breathe in their own right: old, cold marble, mosaic figures and myth brought to life by his stylish and insightful words.

The first poem in the book is titled "Night Drive: Elegy" and is a phenomenally powerful work. Readers feel that they are with the poet, back running through his childhood, now driving in the present, at the poet's side as he acknowledges his memories. The seemingly effortless, narrative freestyle draws one in to this elegy with deceptive casualness, and I was taken aback to find tears blurring my sight halfway through, streaming down my face in empathy. Despite his grief, there is still the beauty of expression of a life lived well in love. "No one/ ever born had hands I'd rather feel/ enclosing mine. Then. Now. The day/ the son we named for him was born."

He travels -- Crete, Cornwall, Wales, Northumbria, Oxfordshire, Croatia, Canada -- and we travel with him, privileged to vicariously experience the Greek dawn, the English rain, the azure Mediterranean and the white spray of the cold sea crashing against Tintagel. We span the seasons he has witnessed, deep midwinter snows, falling autumn leaves, summer haze, the changing quality of the light between the countries. Much of the work in Beyond This Dark House is retrospective, it gives the feeling sometimes of a considered life, carefully wrought memories, yet at intriguing odds with this transient impression is an undeniable blazing vitality and impelling force of reaction to circumstance, situation, person and place. The places are usually associated with his feelings while he lives or visits there -- acquaintances met, an absent friend, a much-missed lover -- which naturally brings a particularly personal nuance to these poems.

Many of the poems in the other sections concern love -- but I hesitate to call them love poems, for fear some prospective reader may dismiss them more lightly than they deserve. These are poems of infinite sensitivity, some sensual and delicately erotic; some portraying the destructive fire and feisty impossibility of relationships; some with dark, edgy undertones. He puts these complex and sometimes difficult emotions under the microscope of authorship, paring down words and exposing the feelings, not just of himself, but the women who have touched his life. He creates still pictures and small scenarios with clarity and precision, and one builds up a picture of the author as a man not easily swayed, but deeply affected when moved by emotion. I find it impossible to quote sparingly from even one of these poems; to do so detracts from the perfection he has made of the whole. There are astounding, exquisite phrases, words of passion and extraordinary tenderness. Treat yourself, buy the book and read them in entirety.

I feel sure that Guy Gavriel Kay's fans will buy Beyond This Dark House solely on the strength of their confidence in his proven preceding literary triumphs. For those who do not already know the quality of his work, I enthusiastically encourage anyone with even the remotest inclination toward reading a poem to dip into this book. Once you have opened the cover, I hope you find your emotions under the spell of this master word-crafter, and remain as entranced as I. This book is a gift in which to lose oneself again and again.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 29 November 2003

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