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The North End of the Possible
Andrew Philip
Reviewed by Jennifer Wong

Published by Salt, Andrew Philip's second collection, The North End of the Possible, is a bold experiment of form and persona. Through the eyes of the enigmatic character MacAdam, we approach familiar environments and scenarios in a new light, and explore the realms of our unconscious. Conjuring a futuristic, surreal landscape with a delightfully lyrical narrative and adventures with form, Philip's poetry offers a completely new take towards modernity: a world of estrangement, ambivalence and bottled-up emotions.
One of his most exciting poems in the collection, '10x10', derives new meanings from wedding anniversary gifts, exploring the idea of intimacy, ageing and the knowledge of the future:


Our younger heads, cast in bronze by a friend,

may occupy a prominent spot beside your Dutch vase,

prevailing over the tinpot fears of aging

as we recall fondly the days of cheap paper,

inexpensive cotton and less heat.                              

('3. Shagreen')

Throughout the collection, we are given very few clues on the background or motives of the character MacAdam, but the mystery is the salient and unifying theme, alongside carefully juxtaposed, idiosyncratic images, as we observe the protagonist in unlikely situations: his surprisingly imaginative replies that defy the expectations of the interrogator ('MacAdam's Interrogation') and the anticipated destruction of his diary ('MacAdam Takes to the Fire'). Altogether, the poems are imbued with a mixture of dark humour and Beckett-style theatricality, as if the reader is only allowed to access a certain moment of reality and not to dwell on the past or the future:


Aye, but there's dark

and dark the dawn has marvelled at.

It's hidden from him yet, but MacAdam

must drive through with such a gloom...                   

('MacAdam Takes to the Sea')


Andrew Philip studied linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, and his poems exude playfulness with poetic form and language(s), especially the reinterpretation of dialect(s) in 'MacAdam Takes to the Sky', which is a reflection on the natural characteristics and movements of birds. Given the creative impetus of his language, his poetry displays surprising borrowings, coinages and metaphors, such as 'edgeland', 'a kiln for happiness', 'terrorhope' and 'erasive', and adds a very fine texture to the poems. At times, these experiments with language can border on being too elusive, but such elusiveness is made up for by sophisticated resonance and fluidity.

Marked by an imaginative, postmodern use of language and the poet's attention towards craftsmanship, Philip's latest collection is a profound questioning of ready-made meanings and definition of one's cultural identity in the contemporary world. 

Jennifer Wong is British-based poet born in Hong Kong.

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