Andy Kissane’s fourth collection, Radiance, is a heartening answer to those who, like publisher Stephen Matthews, lament that ‘many modern poets choose to shroud their work in point-scoring obscurity at a time when clarity and accessibility might encourage more people to read poetry’. Kissane doesn’t address this issue directly, but his book is an important negative instance.
The first virtue of Kissane’s poetry here is its empathy, which leads on to an important (though sometimes unfashionable) political dimension; the sonnet ‘Match Girls, 1888’ is a telling example. Two young sisters in a Dickensian match factory begin to notice what is happening to the other girls: the damaged jawbones and bleeding gums. The ending is disturbingly poignant: ‘One / mustn’t complain. Instead, she poked her sister / under the quilt and they laughed at their teeth – / glowing green and ghostly in the warm cave of the bed.’ Similar compassion and outrage can be found in a number of neighbouring poems, particularly ‘The Street Vendor’s Lament’, ‘The Child is Father of the Man’, and ‘The Smell of the Sea’. All deal with dangerous working conditions, and all make their point with technical subtlety and an absence of rhetoric.