In A Gather of Shadow, Mark Roper offers images of “a moment” when the poet, aware, finds a special quality in the world. Many of these poems are in half tone or shades of gray, the colors seen at dusk when the eye changes from the sharp color of day into a netherworld. Several of the poems speak about the experience of the poet, when they stop and turn to writing poetry instead of continuing about their everyday experience.
In asking myself what I liked about this collection, I found myself examining specific poems and saying, what did Mark Roper do in this poem.
The most inviting poem for me, “Advent”, frames the experience of doing i.e. “Open the door” with qualities that are hard to define. He moves from concrete into idealistic terms “Darkness, Stillness, Silence” that readers connect with images. By capitalizing each, it’s as if he lived in the time of leprechauns or totemic Gods and he were calling special friends among them into an experience. The repetition of this phrase returns the reader back again and again to where they once experienced those three qualities. The repetition also works because of the rhythmic balance of each item in contrast to the other stanzas and visually because of their italics. The result is readers place themselves in the same position that the poet was in at the time of finding the poem.
In the poem “Falling” the experience of the poet and the experience of a swallow are superimposed, one a top the other and back again. The use of start, stop, up, fall, captures the flight pattern of the swallow. The insertion of these verbs at specific places, shapes the same experience even though every sentence is about the same length, again mirroring the flight of swallows, too and from a wire or nest. The initial comparison is from a person awakening to the swallow. Then the poem follows the swallow but then it returns back to the person as they are about to fall asleep, catching that same start to dream or fly, then stop awake, that occurs when someone is napping when they shouldn’t. Because of that, the imagery turns back to the swallow because they seldom sleep, it seems and because their survival depends on getting food and so perhaps they shouldn’t rest. In essence, this poem works really well by combining specific details about the natural world from two different perspectives and playing them off each other as a reflection as well as connection to the other.
Overall, the poems in this collection are very polished—you never stumble reading them, you never find any weasel words, they are simple and clear to understand. They all connect strongly with nature including places like the saltmarsh, lough, St. Patrick’s cabbage, oystercatchers, thrush, swallows and plovers with life along the river, at sea, by waterfalls.