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Red Streamers, a new collection of miniature poems by Paul Abdul Wadud Sutherland, in a bilingual English/Romanian edition.


Reviewed by Richard Lance Keeble
With his latest collection, Paul Sutherland confirms his status as one of Britain’s most important and original poets. It comprises a sequence of 124 very short, intense, delicately crafted, haiku-like stanzas: one with two lines followed by a three liner – and so on. 

The range of subject matter and poetic styles is deceptively broad. The UK setting (Spurn Head, the Wash, the Trent, Bamburgh, a Whitby trawler, Newark, a Saxon towpath) blends in with the global (J.F.K., Mostar, Afghanistan, Palestine, the plight of refugees). Throughout, the animal kingdom (swallows, dragonflies, blackbird, heron, foxgloves, squirrel, gathered gulls, peacock) is celebrated as is nature (‘deserted tidal pools’, ‘umpteen petals/blush the water’, ‘early moon-fall/against darkness’). But urban scenes are also captured (‘a yellow cab burbles/through city panic’, ‘Back in the city/a drying Blackbird spreads/skeletal wings’, ‘city lights extinguished/sirens scream in each quarter’) and then quickly disappear. 

Moreover, the mood-range is also quite wide. There are sensuous, tender stanzas (‘generations in love/round the tied cottage/winter Jasmine’, ‘already in love/cuddling down in their boat – soft words bubble-up’, ‘his and hers pillows/fluffed-up/on a hotel bed’) just as there are subtly expressed political ones (‘a refugee/Ghassan, speaks his name/Palestine’, ‘Bridge at Mostar/re-arches the gorge’). 

Some of my favourite stanzas are those that, in just a few, precisely chosen words, convey intriguing narratives. For instance, Sutherland writes: ‘a teenage waitress/clears tables/wiping with both hands’, ‘the chip-shop owner/opens his morning door – black turban in place’, ‘before her first patron/a hair-dresser preens/in polished glass’, ‘her Guide Dog/a woman pursues with shouts/tapping a long stick.’ And there is humour too: ‘O Shit she exclaims/in bridal regalia/at the shutter’s click.’ 

So Sutherland’s subject matter and moods are constantly moving in totally unpredictable directions, evoking the mystery which lies, after all, at the heart of all poetic creation. 

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