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Luck is the Hook: A Review

Hadfield Nigh 64

Luck is the Hook. Imtiaz Dharker. Bloodaxe Books £12 ISBN: 978-1-78037-218-1 Pp 128

Luck is the Hook. The title attests to Dharker’s passion for the rhythm and rhyme that flow effortlessly through her poems. The four words speak to her playful and deft layering of language: the homophonic ‘luck’ and ‘look’ allow an aural ambiguity to occur; and a ‘hook’ can pull things together as easily as it can pull them apart. From these four words, the reader knows to expect, and to revel in, a collection replete with linguistic possibilities.

Dharker works language as a lathe and the smooth finish of her poems belies the craft, skill, and precision involved:

The day blows a fuse. You walk out,

your breath a snow-storm surging

round your mouth, your tracks a baffled

argument in black and white.

-‘Thaw’

The imagery here is circular and electric. Day becomes night from sheer frustration. ‘You walk out’ suggests both calm, in contrast to this heightened emotion, and the finality of leaving a relationship. These ideas are then challenged by the ‘snow-storm’ breath in the next line: one ‘storms’ out in the heat of the moment to cool down, usually with the intent to return. The ‘baffled’ tracks link back to the opening sense of being overwhelmed, and work as an image for the flurried snow that is disturbed by hurried footsteps. ‘Black and white’ ends the stanza by pulling these strands together:  the ideas of daylight and darkness, happiness and anger; the supposed simplicity of the argument which has been undermined by ‘blows a fuse’ and ‘baffled’; and the contrast between the straight-forward snow and nuanced ground it disguises.

Line breaks also embody a multitude of possibilities. Dharker carries language across these line-breaks with ease, leaving a litany of ambiguities and potential interpretations in her wake:

Like a giant boar, pig-ugly, it tore

out of the sky with its load


of death. clumsy, it missed the mark

and snouted down into the road

The saints held their breath, bells

bit their tongues, singing died.

                                                                                -‘Unexploded-

The opening line ends with ‘tore’ giving us the sense that this unidentified ‘it’ is wild, aggressive, and moving at great speeds over land, perhaps tearing through undergrowth or physically tearing something with its teeth. It takes the following line for the object to move into the sky, and the third to identify it as a weapon, though an imprecise one that misses its ‘mark’. Further down the poem we expect the ‘bells’ to stop ringing or to be silenced; Dharker makes the bells as sentient as the statues, enforcing their own silence. The transferred epithet of death makes the purpose of this projectile unmistakable, and the two end-line words ‘bells’ and ‘died’ evoke the desperate stillness that so often precedes chaos.

The collection is a fluid one. Sequences of elephants, seeds, ghosts, rivers, letters, arcs, trains, planes, and wars tumble and flow like sticks and leaves thrown into a fast-flowing river. Words and phrases appear, vanish, and resurface in ways that surprise and delight the reader. Fitting then, that the collection ends with ‘This tide of Humber’, a poem which stops the reader, who now finds themselves at ‘the edge of the world’, with the instruction that ‘you need to be ready to throw away// the part of your ticket that says Return’.

Dharker is a story-teller: she chooses words for their looks, their sounds, their silences; the relationships that develop between them on the page, and the relationships they develop with the reader off the page. Her poetic forms illuminate her work as meaningfully as her pictures and her stories thrill and tease, sharpen and soften with every turn of the page. New and returning readers alike will undoubtably fall for this collection hook, line, and sinker.

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