The Sisyphus Dog by Stephen Boyce

“This collection’s great strength lies in the poet’s use of physical detail in crafting his effects. There is no space here to give a full account, but I hope I have given some idea below of the poet at work. Stephen Boyce starts strongly with ‘Threasds’, a modern sonnet, in which his sewing mother encloses her husband, on his dangerous journey, with her love. The act of sewing itself, although “cheerless”, helps to “straighten” his weaving path, “drawing him safely home” with the power of her stitching.

His father, indeed, is shown in a variety of ways. The sahib is seen through “Orange Pekoe …Assam, Darjeeling” teas, which evoke “visions” and “longing” yet regret and guilt as he remembers remembers the tea pickers “keening” and “the scars on their fingers”. The frail older man is unsparingly yet sympathetically described: his chest is “a bag of bones” yet “his chin trembles”.

There is keen observation too in ‘The Principle of Uncertainty’. The position of the “sitter” is powerfully shown, both still and dynamic, “twisted” and yet an “arrangement”. The Palette’s colours are called up with equal vigour, from metallic “bronze”, “copper”, “ferrous” to primal “white”, “black”, “green”, “yellow”, and subtle “grey”, “indigo”. We can feel them in the “smeared pigment” and the “scarred” surface. Physical details are used in a different way in ‘Interrogation Scenes’. Here the poet’s vision is impressionistic, disturbing. Sinister figures “wield the hose”, have “ways of getting blood from stones”. The “moon’s face” is “like a bloodstain”. There are “rope burns”, there is “bundled straw”. This time we are unsure, uneasy about where we are: “A ceiling fan flickers”, “somewhere in the mid-West”, “In Babylon”. We are left “wondering if they have yet begun”.

Richard Palmer, South. Purchase The Sisyphus Dog