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Tom Pow’s powerful new collection of poetry explores the imaginative legacy of a nineteenth-century lunatic asylum, the Crichton, drawing on the richly-documented history of the site. This remarkable book includes the sequence ‘Resistances’ gathered from female patients’ notes, but Pow brings many others within his compass: Nebuchadnezzar, Tom Thumb, Peter Pan, Charcot (Master of Salpetriere, the female asylum in Paris, ‘that great emporium of human misery’), all make an appearance, as do Freud and the Wolf Man. The Crichton Lunatic Asylum was at the forefront of the great nineteenth century European-wide ‘trade in lunacy’ – a period when old assurances were crumbling and our modern sense of the permeability of identity was being formed.
‘Out of fractured narratives of real pain, profound human distress and madness, as well as from records of the historic therapeutic quests of the Crichton doctors who tried – always inadequately, of course, how could it be otherwise? – to deal with, if not heal, this misery, Tom Pow has fashioned beautiful, humane, deeply mysterious poems imbued with a palpable sense of place, of landscape and of time.’ —Liz Lochhead
‘A special attraction of Tom Pow’s poems is they achieve lucidity without dissolving into simplicity and a decorum which has nothing to do with gentility. They say what they say with aesthetic as well as human tact, and present experiences without inflating them or diminishing them. In other words, with truth.’ —Norman MacCaig
‘... his firm sombre draughtsmanship is masterly...Also he has the gift – very rare – of compressing what could be a full-length novel into a poem of about fifty lines that leaves a Tchechovian after-pang.’ —George Mackay Brown
‘... a highly impressive first collection. The assured technique, the distinctive voice and the mature vision are the qualities of a poet who is confident of his powers...Pow has a command of imagery and diction that allow him to conjure up a sense of place, and with it that compound of atmosphere and mood and tone, with apparent effortlessness...combines a disciplined passion for the truth of experience with a delight in the art of poetry.’ —James Aitchison
‘This is not an easy or comfortable book: like the rough seas of the title it is entirely readable but always cut with integral unpredictability; like all good seas, that’s where the magic lies. The poem, Rough Seas: Three Postcards, highlights the essences: ‘...for some people Rough Seas can never be/ metaphorical: nor words enshrine their pain’: Tom Pow comes close.’ —Tom Nairn
‘... has a raw directness that doesn’t let the reader out of his grip. His poetry is rich in texture, full of the sights and sounds of the world, the little things of life, and a genuine sympathy which supplies a truly human touch.’ —Joy Hendry
‘This book has a freshness and vigour that have been gifted to a poet who by his technique is able to capture them in significant images...I have been most impressed by this book, by its natural imagery, and its human insight... Sometimes I sense the generous shade of Heaney behind the poems, but Pow has well learned any lessons the master may have taught him. His formal control is masterly, his imagery clear and colourful ...’ —Iain Crichton Smith
‘I was aware of a mind exploring further, searching for, rather than settling for definitive answers. One of the generous strengths of his work, its accumulating power at this early stage of his career, is that he permits his readers to join him in these explorations and share with him the learning and the daring that is involved.’ —Hayden Murphy
‘This really is an outstanding collection. I know that in the quiet grove of Poetics, superlatives are relatively common; but The Moth Trap captures and justifies them all.’ —John Glenday
‘With a swashbuckling relish for language, and an intense lyricism allied to delicacy of phrase, Tom Pow’s new poems daringly set events of global significance against moments of startling intimacy, and the vulnerability of childbirth. Masterly evocations of landscape, from Scotland to South America and the Arctic, retain a sense of mystery, a still centre; triumphantly confirming his advocacy of harmony and humanity, and the ‘symmetry of love’, in the face of the howling world surrounding us.’ —Stewart Conn
‘Pow earns his large conclusions about mortality, love, fear and sacrifice, by giving us the process behind them ... This simplicity is never lazy, it is born of effort. Red Letter Day is a very fine collection indeed.’ —Robyn Marsack
‘... a thoughtful, occasionally brooding and clever gathering of poems which pulls the political into our laps and takes the personal to a wider stage.’ —Rosemary Goring
‘This is a fine and powerful collection, with virtually everything in it alive to the sounds, smells, noises and ironies of life. And Pow responds to life by embracing it fully.’ —Jim Burns
‘Tom Pow’s poetry goes from strength to strength...What is impressive is not that he makes [these] foreign settings seem exotic, but that he can make a birchwood in Fife or snowdrops in Edinburgh seem just as exotic and make the prairie or the jungle seem just as immediate.’ —Robin Bell
‘... full of good things, vivid and direct things, things to shock us. He is not afraid to be harsh. His virtue is a sort of fever of awareness – he thinks with his veins and his nerves.’ —Robert Nye
‘Red Letter Day is as good a collection of poetry as I’ve read by anyone Scottish – dammit anyone at all – in a long time ... an enviably assured book of poetry from one of the most accomplished Scots writing today.’ —Dennis O’Donnell
‘On Landscapes: A beautifully produced book of poetry and art.’ —Edwin Morgan
‘Tom Pow’s new collection shows his usual gift for evoking a great variety of landscapes with precision and atmosphere. But these are essentially ‘landscapes with figures’, and the human element, rich in reference to fathers and mothers, children, love and bereavement, has an immediacy and clarity that will appeal to many readers. And notably, the pleasures of mushroom-picking and crab-catching and cherry-wolfing are not allowed to oust the darker themes of foot-and-mouth and phosphorus bombs in south-west Scotland.’ —Edwin Morgan
‘The book is a love poem to the world – a declaration of love to the storied world, the light and the dark world, the gone world. It even imbues death with a kind of burning hope and life. It has a rare and infectious freshness in its vision, a seeing that is always a combination of joy and apprehensiveness. I particularly loved the long poems, muscular and spatial. I found Landscapes and Legacies beautiful, grave and moving.’ —Ali Smith
‘There is a wistful energy about this collection, captured in writing even more honed than that of his previous work.’ —Rosemary Goring
‘These are wonderfully lucid poems, full of humanity...Pow is regarded as one of Scotland's finest poets – and it shows in this brave collection.’ —Harry Mead
‘With taut economy, turns of phrase arresting and compelling and an ear for weighing words, Pow's variety and empathy with his material are laudable, lyrical things. This is a poignant, subtle and humane book.’ —Peggy Hughes
‘Pow is not constrained by the specialised material, including artworks and annual reports from the asylum. Rather, he combines this with his own fantasy narratives and contemporary observations...There is often a literal descriptive level at which these poems operate...but on the meta-level there is a text that raises far wider questions, many of them finding obvious echoes in today's news pages.’ —Keith Bruce
‘Behind the voices of observers, witnesses, inmates, wardens, and the stark or tender stories, it is the poet's own voice which finds exact words to let in light.’ —J.B. Pick
‘Pow's vision is both lucid and complex, his treatments sympathetic but judicious, his executions the work of a very deft hand. What you encounter as a reader in Dear Alice is complicity to a point that never trespasses upon realism. Understanding, you are reminded, is only anything like truth within the cell walls of the Self. And madness has a logic very like your own. Read Dear Alice first because it's beautiful, but read it also to learn more about yourself.’ —Stephen Lackaye
‘The elegance and sensitivity makes this sequence [Resistances] the highlight of Dear Alice. When it comes to describing insanity, poetry, it transpires, is a deeply sympathetic medium: the negotiation between words and meanings, the unexpected connections and curious juxtapositions; in life these are marks of madness, but in poetry, they become art.’ —Sarah Crown
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