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Guest Review: Houghton On Sluman

Nick Houghton reviews
Absence Has a Weight Of Its Own
by Daniel Sluman

Daniel Sluman’s debut collection brings an unsparing eye to bear on sickness, death and dissolution. The preface, ‘Absence has a weight of its own,’ sets the tone for the whole, that of a child who has experienced a sense of its own mortality, trying to fill the void created by this formative experience.

The poet’s voice is intimate and relies on personal anecdote, conveying the early established sense of incompleteness and loss via a number of scenes, notably in ‘Summer at the Farm,’ where loss of innocence is dealt with,

…or that afternoon we watched 
Wendy’s blood wisp, bloom ringlets 
on the white of her thighs…,

and, ‘After the Wedding,’ where the narrator feels bathos after the headlong rush of romance and marriage,

Back then, you were so London 
with your ecstatic white teeth…

…we find ourselves
 stalled in the marriage bed;
your maiden name

a peppercorn crushed
in my mouth…
…I guess what I’m asking is 
where do we go
from here?

The emotional and physical scars caused by isolating experience, whether they are self-inflicted or come through illness are a recurring theme. Roman, a libertine, is only ever present at moments of dissolution and debauchery as in, ‘Cocaine Roman,’ where,

…the Genesis of each eye 
blooming black, 

the tachycardic heart swelling
veins to chase themselves…,

and is presented as some sort of automata, representing emotional distance; Roman does not indulge his narcotic and fleshy pursuits alone, however. Trauma:  blunt force, survivor and post stress are examined in, ‘Transcript,’

…we turned
the windscreen 
full of veins…

                          …the metal missed, 
but he didn’t look right,

at his slick palms…

…Choke the words,
& there were 
no words.
Part three of the collection explores love and relationships and has an empathic quality that balances and brings closure to the overarching narrative. In, ‘Dedication,’ love is seen through the prism of domesticity,

…dropping bacon in hot oil, dashing cutlery 
on an epiphany of china… 

…If you cleaved me in two
you’d smell your perfume on my bones.

The poet is coming to terms with the world, letting the outside back in. The collection is closed with, ‘This View,’ bringing romantic resignation, and a tight focus on what, in other hands, could have been clichĂ©,

‘A million people are laying heads 
on the tender of their arms, staring
 at their lover’s back as they sleep…, 

…I hear the screams of my unborn children,
their blood films my hands.  Tonight,

mortgages will swell & plates will loosen…,

but here evokes the kind of romantic peace to which only a fool would not aspire.
Sluman’s voice is modern, able to describe sex, vitality and youthfulness, while at the same time being mature in its treatment of relationships. A voice with this range is rare, and I was both moved and excited; I look forward to reading more of his work.

Nick Houghton is a third year creative writing and English literature student at Kingston University. His first novel, Dirty Tuesday, will be completed in September 2013.          
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