Adrian Buckner, Downshifting (Five Leaves Publications, £9.99).

The OED defines ‘downshifting’ as ‘The action of downshift; an instance of this; spec. (orig. U.S.), the practice of changing a financially rewarding but stressful career or lifestyle for one less pressured and highly paid, but more fulfilling.’ The title poem of Adrian Buckner’s third book of poems paints an idealistic and idealised version of the downshifting worker who wants to move away from the office job, with its intellectual and emotion labour, to one in which those demands do not exist. This is a job in which the payoff is the chance both to read books and to carry their worlds around in his head. Of course, Buckner is clear that this version of Larkin’s ‘Toads’, is just as unrealistic as Larkin’s own; but Buckner keeps his hopes up, ‘Thomas, I am with you in the dead hour,/ perched on my forklift truck, watching/ Egdon Heath turn to dusk in six pages.’

The cover of Downshifting, shows what might be a very English young man, possibly on the way home from school or college, a satchel slung over his left shoulder. The young man is walking through autumn leaves, with a lowering autumnal sky behind him. The tree in the picture has denuded twigs. The young man is looking pensively down at the crisp packet he appears to be toeing through the leaves. Such an illustration is perfectly chosen, as, over the course of his three books, Adrian Buckner has built a quiet body of warm, rather English writing. This description may sound both parochial and sentimental, but Buckner’s writing is the very antithesis of that. The writing is precise, hard-earned, and winces at certainties, although it is capable of reducing some of those certainties to a kind of delicate rubble.

The book does repeat some of the concerns of Buckner’s two previous volumes: there are poems about cricket, Russian nineteenth century novels, and quiet, yet piercing observations of the comings and goings in his English Midlands’ suburb. Larkin complained that development in a poet was overrated, but Buckner has circled round these subjects with a refining eye. Buckner’s great gift is to be the poet of epiphany. Of course, many poets aspire to such a gift; to be able to make a moment both concrete and resonant. Buckner is a great organizer of poems; thus the concrete and the resonant emerge naturally out of the precise trajectory of his writing. I wish I could quote the whole of ‘Summer’s End’, an achingly beautiful ‘little’ poem about shell collecting with a small child, which ends, ‘A dozen times she brings/ her spilling jewels to him;// on his deliberate palm a single/ offering for her.’ As much as anything it is the placing of the adjectives ‘spilling’ and ‘deliberate’ which makes the ending so poignant. As much as anything it is Buckner’s acute understanding of these moments of love which makes his writing so empathetic and uplifting.

Ian Pople

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