Because we could not dance at the wedding
Because We Could Not Dance at the Wedding is really a collection of love poems, informed by a practice of close, observant living. Michael McKimm writes beautifully, at once vivid, embodied and restrained.
This is a collection that rewards reading steadily through – don’t dip.
As I read into this collection I’m being let into the mind of the poet, learning his world, and how he thinks of it. The poem “Black Snow” […] is one of these. This poem is so beautifully structured and interconnected.
I could write about every poem in this collection, but a significant feature of many of them is McKimm’s attention to the quotidian, the homely and the local.
What a marvellous ear McKimm has. As his reader I was engaged by openness, alertness and love, qualities which characterise this memorable, sensitive collection.
Jean Atkin. Read the full review at London Grip
McKimm’s work focuses on what is “secure”. No, not safe: rather those qualities that endure and stabilize the mind within a relationship or within the world. Poems such as “Love Poem with Beech Coppard” and “Aubade” reveal McKimm to be a poet of human feeling.
Certainly, McKimm knows his poetical roots. The intense and stunning “Love Poem with Goshawk” closes with a fragmentary technique found in Gunn’s “The Menace”. But the real delight in McKimm’s poetry is how he is not predictable and breaks new ground. He is acutely aware of language and how to bring a poem alive with a sharp phrase: “the skiffly piddlers my brother/would catch” or “water the colour of Belfast lemonade.”
The natural world is not just a useful provider of metaphors. [It is] what “secures” the human elements, what makes the relationship between two men —natural— and hold tight carefully.
At last, a poetry book worth re-reading!
Andrew Howdle. Read the full review at Goodreads
Michael McKimm’s Because we could not dance at the wedding is a beautifully crafted and moving work. For one thing, it tells the story of a queer couple, reminding us of the beauty of a life shared, as the narrator and his husband negotiate space together whether they are birdwatching, travelling on the London Underground, or joining a Pride parade.
McKimm could be a queer Robert Frost – ‘What the greenfinch actually sounds like’ notices lines from Frost graffitied on a garage door – or a modern Wordsworth: ‘The Council in its frugal simple stealth planted them last autumn’ (‘Daffodils’). But the craft of the phrasing, the lyric quality and the quiet beauty of these poems makes McKimm an inheritor of Michael Longley too, and there is much to enjoy in the careful attention to the world: ‘The window has made me late again’ says the narrator in ‘From the Kitchen Window’.
And how gorgeous are the moments of intimacy with a lover recorded with care and authenticity. ‘Conversion’ describes the couple making vows for their civil partnership, and the narrator admits ‘I don’t think I fully knew before / what language can do’ (‘Conversion’). Michael McKimm is a brilliant writer on relationships, about nature, about the wondrous details of being alive.
Michael McKimm is that objet d’art you discover at a car-boot sale – surprise turning to admiration turning to excitement as the item is rolled slowly in the hand and old enthusiasms are rekindled. I came away from this collection energized once more by McKimm’s ability to illuminate and refresh the seemingly mundane; the flaneur constrained by Covid’s lockdown measures peering out of his window, still driven to record and celebrate the world. Similarly, McKimm rejects restrictions placed on gay relationships and practices, and instead argues for, and honours, gay love in both gloriously defiant and compassionate ways. Importantly however, this is not poetry sacrificed for the conveyance of a reductive message, instead McKimm’s achievement employs poetry’s full tool kit. Turn it in your hand, study it, observe its beauty.
Some comments on poems from the book:
There’s a quiet celebration in ‘Aubade’ and I love the intimacy of it; this closeness, this celebration of touch, this lovely, peaceful moment between two people at first light. I love that nothing is said between the couple, but that so much is conveyed about care and connection.
It’s swooning and romantic without being saccharine and there’s a lovely celebration of domesticity and a shared moment of togetherness. It feels like the couple can take on anything the world throws at them once they’ve tapped out their waking rhythms.
Ben Townley-Canning, editor of fourteen poems
Ireland is, of course, famed for its nature poets – from W.B.Yeats and Seamus Heaney to more recent work by writers such as Jess McKinney – and it would be unthinkable for a modern Irish anthology not to feature at least some writing about nature. Reflecting the blossoming (pun intended) of queer nature poetry, there’s a broad selection of work that breathes new life into familiar territory. Michael McKimm’s ‘Daffodils’ is the perfect embodiment of this, picturing the ubiquitous flower as a ‘singular announcement’ of spring in a celebratoin that is a fresh take on the Wordsworth classic. McKimm expertly balances the queering of language itself (blooming bulbs become ‘mines’), whilst also subverting traditional subject matter, before bringing in a meditation on queer experience that feels personal as a kind of crowning tier.
It’s hard not to find the closing of this poem especially moving in the breathless, run-on nature of lines largely shorn of punctuation in which flowers dart for the sky from the darkness.
Ben Townley-Canning, reviewing Queering the Green (The Poetry Review 112.2 Summer 2022)
One of the most interesting Irish writers to emerge in recent years […] a willingness to experiment with form and to question the very nature of poetry […] Others in the sequence are typical of the lyrical grace which is such an attractive feature of his work. […] As occurs throughout the collection, the geologists’s lexis is employed to great effect but is more than decoration or scientific shorthand; it is part of the poetry […] McKimm’s ecological warnings go far beyond polemic: this work is to be enjoyed both for its arguments and its artistry.
Paul Maddern, Poetry Ireland Review
Michael McKimm’s Fossil Sunshine (Worple Press) was written to help present the scientific evidence for climate change. Appropriately enough, McKimm follows Tennyson – a keen champion of science – in imagining, in “Riptide”, a modern-day Kraken rising from the seabed, with terrifying consequences: “what’s incubated in the depths now free / swollen, then breathing… / and quickening in water”. Tennyson’s leviathan can sleep until Judgement Day: if we are as close to the carbon trigger as scientists believe, that could be sooner than we think. Read these poems!
Andrew McCulloch, Times Literary Supplement
Fossil Sunshine really is differently-angled to most of the collections you’ll have read recently […] These poems are vigorous, ambiguous and even visionary. In them we see mankind’s power as much as our malign influence, the frailty of nature as much as its resilience. They want us to think about these issues, but will not do the thinking for us. […] I’d recommend these poems, for their grit and grain as much as their environmental concerns, for their humble belief in human ingenuity as much as their clear-eyed warning about where it seems to be taking us.
Martyn Crucefix – read the full review here.
The language employed by this poet is powerfully tactile. [The poems in Fossil Sunshine] are strong and in every sense grounded poems which are also capable of transformative action and insight into the bedrock of our life experience. For what lies under the soles of our shoes and the foundations of our houses but bedrock? Be his subject a calendar year depicting erosions or a prose poem about a fossil sea sponge, the reader is engaged and enthralled by the range and consideration that gives each poem its specific and enthralling individuality.
This collection presents a perspective that remains resolutely focused on the overlooked textures and colours of the rock underfoot. McKimm particularly delights in inclusions – the combinations of different rock classes in one place, often near the sea – and has found in the esoteric jargon of geology a wealth of subtle metaphors for his poetry. […] one of poetry’s great powers is to make things we take for granted seem new – the power of estrangement – and it seems to be McKimm’s point that any decisions about how we reconcile our use of fossil sunshine with our need to continue inhabiting the planet have a surprisingly vast scale to relate to. The lessons of rocks are not simple, but subtle. […] There is no simplistic ‘green’ message here, just a cool, geological look at the change man is bringing to the world. […] Perhaps with his eyes attuned to see beauty in the inorganic, McKimm has learnt to see past a polarised view of the ‘exploitation’ of the earth. Perhaps he suggests that we should, too?
Martin Noutch, London Grip – read the full review here.
Restrained in tone, carefully mixing the scientific and the lyrical, the poems of Fossil Sunshine remind the reader that the relationship between humanity and nature mainly proceeds not in dramatic leaps but in small steps – like the new sections of pipework that, even now, might be snaking along yards below our feet.
Michael Thomas, Under the Radar magazine – read the full review here
Attempting an artistic twist to fieldwork and scientific reports, usually categorised as somewhat hermetical, is a highly audacious task. […] Yet McKimm skilfully incorporates conference notes into his pamphlet, demonstrating the harmonious interdisciplinary fusion he seeks. […] While the playful musical sonorities and rhythmic flow are constants throughout the work, the use of form is more experimental and varies from one poem to the next. […]Throughout, scientific veracity is preserved, but “translated” in such a way that invite a wider audience to engage with unequivocal environmental realities.
Emilie Balloux, Durham University of the Art Review – read the full review here
Fossil Sunshine shows the ground beneath our feet in a whole new light. In these poems, the language of geology is both poetic and political: basalt and limestone, quartz and jasper become urgent works of art. Michael McKimm’s words ring against the rocks.
Poetica: Critiques of Poetry and Poetics: a short essay about Fossil Sunshine by Joel Weishaus
Still This Need
Still This Need is a multidimensional map of the personal, historical and natural. The reader is instilled with a sense, crucially, of their place in the world rather than dominance of it. Rather than preaching, McKimm gently prods the reader to wake up, to look at what is in front of them…Although this is only a first collection, it is wholly realized. The collection’s crystalline images and melodic lines alone are worth the purchase. But it is his cartographer’s eye – caring, careful, precise – which leaves the reader with the feeling they’ve been somewhere beautiful.
Jennifer Matthews, Verbal
It is very much a proper collection. There are no fat nor empty gestures within, no fireworks that glisten briefly before fading away, no showing off nor grandstanding. Just poetry at its very finest. Honestly hewn from a poet comfortable in his landscape and at home with the very business of writing poetry before being generously handed over to the reader with a minimum of fuss….This really is a magnificent debut collection and you are left with the overriding feeling that this is only the beginning of what will become an intriguing and fascinating journey. You really should get in there early and buy this book.
Matt Nunn, Under The Radar
McKimm is a lyric poet with a finely-honed gift for observation, especially of landscapes and nature, and a surefooted grasp of rhythms that renders his work gloriously musical…but he also springs all sorts of little surprises that help set him apart from a number of other promising young poets….he frequently dodges the default persona of many a male poet under the age of 45 – streetwise, occasionally cynical, always ironic – and instead adopts something altogether more vulnerable, more emotionally direct….a collection that repeatedly takes the current moment as the only certainty, and writes and rewrites past and future around it. If that gives him huge scope to expand on this superb beginning, that’s something to be grateful for.
Matt Merritt, Polyolbion
Readers who cherish Northern Irish landscape will find in McKimm a source of great promise….Stillness pervades this collection; still moments listening to the call of a creature in the night, memories that ‘soar still beyond the boundaries’ (‘Cemetery’), the stillness of water, the becalmed relationships which ended his parents’ letter writing. Particularly impressive in scope are the sequence poems such as ‘The Lammas Lands’, a poetic account of the water-course through Hackney Marsh….he examines the cost to the countryside of human progress. McKimm portrays creatures at the limit of human contact, representing a world almost lost.
F.J. Williams, The Warwick Review
His mode of observation may be nearly Wordsworthian, but McKimm is not merely concerned with the act of looking and seeing; his work is far more sensually evocative….The language in ‘The Moose’, as in most of the collection, is simple — sometimes surprising — but never abrasive. The collection leans on tradition with its attention to naturalism, geography, and in particular, ornithology, but opens itself up to the reader most successfully when observation is transcended by the sensual.
Charlotte Newman, Horizon Review