In an early poem, ‘Presbyterian Study’, Tom Paulin wrote admiringly of ‘choosing the free way,/Not the formal’. It is a mode that he has pursued in poetry for more than thirty years now and one that he brings to some kind of fruition in his delightful and unexpectedly poignant new volume, Love’s Bonfire. The contained and simmering aspects of Paulin’s early work seem here to have given way, finally, to something much more playful and sweet, although a bleak sort of piquancy remains. There is a likeable, boyish modesty about many of these poems, which at times recall the perceptive gabbling of a young child – tuneful and unbridled, though never shrill. As one poem has it, Love’s Bonfire offers readers ‘the honest truth/according to Tom’.
Paulin’s particular brogue – gradually perfected over the course of his career – has for a long time demonstrated a rare ability to go on surprising the reader with its twists and turns, authorial intrusions, repetitions, snatches of dialect and so on (the idiom owes a debt to Frank O’Hara).