Review of Places collection by Sam Smith in issue 55 of The Journal:
'A collection of occasionals loosely gathered together under 3 headings, Home Territory, Further Afield and In the Mind. I stopped with Paul in Calm Evening, a quite lovely poem about dusk in his garden. This first section being more pastoral than domestic, but not solely: I Saw the Ring-Road the Other Night captured the ache-loneliness of being here on planet Earth at this time. A sentiment/sensation repeated in Progress. The second section still has him seeking a bucolic hideaway where he might make sense of this our world. Instead he finds Sea Pinks, a satirical take on seaside living. The final section, confusingly, also seems to focus on the sea. The kind of confusion though that I relish. 'There are places in our thoughts / that are nowhere we have ever been…' (Mind Game). Again a collection that demands to be re-read.'
Review of Places collection by Richard Woolmer in South Issue 59
Paul Surman's attractively presented first collection of 50 poems appropriately reflects its title. Succinct (and pointed). Set in three parts (real and psychological): 'Home Territory' (Oxfordshire), 'Further Afield' and 'In the Mind'. Places (and spaces) where we are drawn into the gaps and absences: a paradox of focus on the blurred and abstract. See the cover picture: a place of light and shadows, almost empty, partly out of focus.
He begins and ends in the garden. Firstly “sifting the dirt of the day” and lastly goes to earth having “never understood, questions I didn't ask...”. Sifting and questioning is what he does. In his website he calls himself a sceptic.
There is powerful imagery. I enjoyed his “jackdaws… like undertakers with criminal convictions”. He senses things differently: “Statues listen carefully but instantly forget”. “Out of focus cars” emerge “from a vague elsewhere.” This almostness of things permeates the collection. He often senses rather than sees: “a faint olfactory glimmer”.
There is uncertainty, the indefinite: “rumours of myself”, “unfocused reality wilting”. We have “imagined paths along which something or nothing might be coming”. “Heads full of cryptic documents”. Even in History, the poet as historian, “mostly nothing happens”. This nothingness runs throughout:
The birds have gone, and their absence
startles, making the air impossible.
He welcomes ruin, enjoys the derelict and though the ring-road is “all road-kill, shattered plastic” there is some optimism: “a quiet beauty”. As with his referenced poet Henry Vaughan there is delight in the rural.
He can do the more gentle and evocative as in his visit to a church in Bruges: “nuns, barely a breath of them”. Though in Primal we are back “close to an edge of things”.
A fascinating, thought provoking, sometimes unsettling odyssey into the “edge of things” and the spaces in between.