Niall Campbell – Noctuary (3 stars)

Niall Campbell – Noctuary

A transcendental look at one father's experience of parenthood

Niall Campbell's second poetry collection is at its best when turning small, intimate aspects of fatherhood into transcendental wonders, but loses its way when it drifts from this narrow focus. This is not intended as a thorough exploration of parenthood's ups and downs, more a poet's realm of silent, snowy nights shared between father and son.

When it drifts, there are a few provocative pieces ('Poacher', for example, revels in rather than dissects 'secondary violence'), and later in the collection the blurb on the back acts as a necessary guide. These detours feel insubstantial, with a few exceptions where Campbell is able to integrate them with his slices of fairytale fatherhood. As a consequence the book meanders, noodling amid themes without bridging gaps.

While this approach produces undeniable beauty there are questions begged by the absences: what is Campbell's thinking behind his partner being a peripheral, almost completely absent figure? Is the contrast between the selected truths of this collection and the rural, island landscapes the most effective one that could be made? Is the dream-like world concocted here, teetering on the verge of repetition then expanding into new forms, substantial or decorative? There's skill and wonder here to be sure, but the dynamics of the collection feel skewed, dulling the overall potency of its crescendos.

Out now via Bloodaxe Books.

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