The North End of the Possible by Andrew Philip: review

Linlithgow-based poet, Andrew Philip, was much praised for his first collection, ‘The Ambulance Box’.  His second collection, ‘The North End of the Possible’, (Salt, £12.99 RRP) is a powerful volume of verse which subtly shakes any residual complacency from the reader. 

English and Scots (with a smattering of Gaelic) coexist easily but the power of the poetry is the complexity of ideas and images which it encompasses.  It pays tribute to Norman MacCaig and to Derek Thomson.

The seeming incomprehensibility of life’s purpose troubles Philip.  MacAdam, the relentlessly searching son of man who narrates more than half the poems in this volume, describes himself as “trauchled by the paraphernalia of a life spent tinkering”, but trauchled though he be, he continues to tinker and to meander through life’s enraging small crises.

Yet for all the seriousness of much of the subject matter, this is a warm and witty collection.  In ‘On Holding’, MacAdam rages impotently against that bane of modern life, the automated telephone messages advising the caller that his “call is important to us” and playing potted excerpts from Vivaldi.  And Philip, like MacAdam, indulges in the frustrated ire directed at systems too powerful and too irrational to be avoided, let alone to control.

The Christ-like MacAdam’s fate is uncertain and he knows that emptiness looms always close at hand.  “It is not far the desert.  It is not far.” His activities lead to his arrest, on suspicion of something unspoken”, and to a Kafkaesque interrogation where he is repeatedly reminded of his right to silence.

Andrew Philip’s verse is intelligent, sensitive and attuned to the unspoken uncertainties of the grieving, the hurt and the lonely.  It articulates a quiet courage and asserts that in the maelstrom of life, with all its defeats and tragedies, there are values worth pursuing come what may.

The North End of the Possible is available here on Amazon

Published by

Alex Wood

Alex Wood has had a varied career in education. He started as an English teacher at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School in 1973 and completed his school-based work as Head Teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in 2011. In between he worked in community education, was a Learning Support teacher, headed a behaviour support unit, was Head of a special school and worked in Edinburgh’s Education headquarters. He is a member of the Education Committee of St George’s School. Alex is now an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration (SCSSA) at Moray House and is Secretary of the Scottish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (SELMAS) as well as being a free-lance writer. His experience however ranges well beyond the worlds of schools and education. For seven years in the 1980s he was an elected member of Edinburgh District Council and he retains a keen interest in the political world. He has a long involvement in genealogy and family history, as a researcher, teacher and writer. He is a member of Edinburgh Common Purpose’s Advisory Group and of the committee of Linlithgow Book Festival. Although he has lived in Linlithgow for over 20 years, and in Edinburgh for the previous 18 years, he remains a loyal fan of his home town football club, Brechin City.

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