The Canals of Mars

Patrick McGuinness' collection of poetry, The Canals Of Mars, is as remarkable a work of poetic craftmanship as has appeared in a Welsh context for some time. In a meticilous and yet bouyant idiom, the book takes us on a journey of places - Romania, Glasgow, the Welsh lexicon, Mars and Coney Beach - the essence of which the poet vividly records.

In No we read: 'King Billy and Princess Di rule their dystopia of Rangers clubs and chip shops'. In Belgitude, an 'unmistakeable confusion about what it was' is the hallmark of a country where 'after a while I fitted in by looking out of place'. In A View of Pasadena from the Road there is 'hyperbole, free-market much to see, so little that holds attention'. Worthier of attention in a fragmented world are images 'taken from life's seams, life's secret pocket, its false-bottomed case: the things we look at but don't think to see' (Two Paintings by Thomas Jones).

McGuinness builds on these minutiae, 'life's tiny intimations' (Short Life of a Thought), hoping in his studied work that 'a word might cross the unfenced border of its meaning' (Borders), as is the case perhaps in a phrase from Coney Beach: 'Time passes through them [the men] like rope through a knot' or in Surfers in a Wing Mirror: 'driving past we watch them disappear, distorted in the wingmirror's mannered version of themselves'.

Major poems in this collection - in the sense that they deal successfully with the difficult ideas of doing, being and becoming - are A History of Doing Nothing and The Darkroom. In the former, the 'doers of nothing...Like us...folded back into Time's pleats before going, traceless, where the dead go, soft-footed in the unresisting dark'. Their destination is perhaps The White Place, a poem about ceasing or continuing to be. On delicate subjects such as this, the poet writes with characteristic deftness: 'I think that we are not alone. I think it less for your sake now than for my own'.


  • 'Poems dealing with death, disease, oblivion and oppression are seldom as poised as those encountered here. McGuinness projects the jarring absurdity of unnatural death through an intricate style buzzing with atonalities, asymmetries, partial repetitions and distorted echoes.'

    Times Literary Supplement

Patrick McGuinness


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Publication details:

The Canals of Mars
Carcanet Press Ltd (2004)


Translation rights:

Michael Schmidt
Carcanet Press
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Italian - Mobydick