Niall Campbell - Moontide (4 stars)

Niall Campbell - Moontide

A western isles poetry collection with a deft, unobtrusive sense of irony


On a first read, Niall Campbell's debut collection might seem a simple enough affair of poems about the earthy, unassuming artefacts of life on the western islands. But Moontide is at its best when these details have their metaphorical strength deflated and made more complex and convincing by the poet’s deft, unobtrusive sense of irony.

In ‘The Work’, Campbell makes hay out of simplistic critical presentation: ‘If I have to, then let me be the whaler poet’. For the beautifully mock-heroic ‘Le Penseur’, he wonders precisely ‘what it is I do understand’. The book is full of these watchful asides, and its sustained tonal intimacy is one of its finest features.

Moontide's sea is an uncanny and threatening presence, and embodies the collection’s recurring binaries of light/dark, song/silence, life/death. While some of these pieces wear their debt to poets like Don Paterson a little heavily, some – like ‘The Fraud’ – are as deeply unsettling as they are richly imagined. Moontide's facility with the lyric voice is rare in a first collection; that it has the assurance to fruitfully undercut that voice even more so.

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