David McLean's Puppies and Monks and Medieval Memories
Reviewed by Gillian Prew
There is practically no poet writing today as prolific as David McLean, but what is truly remarkable is his consistency in quality and thought. McLean is secure in his notion of Being subscribing to a primarily existential ontology but pushing further into nihilistic notions of value and meaning. Things happen and then we die.
it is evening
and death is waiting -
no body waits naked
(this journey, p4)
In this lifespan we are nothing more than a part of nature susceptible to the same processes and endings. Stars are not in heaven and we don’t go there. In fact, ‘heaven’ is probably meaningless for McLean for, like God, it does not in fact refer to anything in the world.
he was part of me, basically, like everything
i see, like the starry night sky,
like the whole of reality.
(what Sisyphus understood, p5)
His lowercase ‘i’ would confirm the insignificance of the individual.
And yet, pure beauty…
i might have wanted to be Genet in Andalusia
in 1934, though i never saw love like a spun ray
of light fall between two friends, just the utility
they raped from each other, like the gross black
(Genet in Andalusia, p7)
The entire ‘lullaby’ (p25) is extremely beautiful. Dedicated to Auden it displays the magnitude of McLean’s talent. It is poetic in the truest sense…using language to distil a beauty from the darkness…
come rest your fleshless head, my death,
immortal on my cancerous arm.
McLean can almost be visually pictured walking his dog in the Swedish gloom in ‘nothing more like life’ (p12)
nothing more like life
nothing is more like life
than gray autumn rain falling
dull day on mud and trees and me,
like a memory already
and a dog walking
because that is duty, like dark falling
at two o'clock a timeless twilight,
nothing more like life
The en soi of the dog authentic, the ‘is’ of Being…the moment mostly all that matters as everything prior can only be the unreliable memories of a tedious history.
And in ‘gentle memory’ (p27), we see the themes of memory and meaning. Medieval monks, although scholars and thinkers, tainted by the need for meaning much of which ends in the irrational acceptance of a higher being…an unfulfilled burden.
gentle memory washes an antique monastery
where monks would touch the stubble
on their gray faces with inquisitive
fingers, and wonder why bodies were fraught
with need and meaning, though heaven weighted
them with a wait for forever.
In ‘the lake and glib nature’ (p28) McLean is literally at home.
the lake sings mourning and sterile life,
although it is full of simple living
leading to exquisite nothing
and never intending to, either;
because nature knows nowhere better
than never, it knows all the emptiness perfectly
well, all the pointless teleology leading nowhere,
life strives because of the surprisingly easy
And in ‘show me’ (p40) we have an insight into the essence of McLean though by no means in the Aristotelian sense.
show me your wounds,
my impending death,
before my zombie eyes
here a sun shuffles
as dogs run
and leaves are autumn
in the water.
show me your wounds
in my skin,
this winter innocence
show me some blood
David McLean is THE poet of our time and this is probably his best book to date. The poems are beautifully written and intellectually rigorous yet they are accessible to the majority of us with lesser minds. You can download this for free but I would advise you to part with the money for the book. You will want to hold this with love - something McLean, despite his nihilistic affiliations, wholly believes in.
You can find the book at:
Puppies and Monks and Medieval Memories at Lulu.com
Currently living in Argyll, Scotland with her partner, two children and a cat, Gillian Prew ditched philosophy in favour of poetry even though the former still haunts her. Her chapbook, DISCONNECTIONS, is hot off the press at erbacce.