Best Man by Owen Lewis

Reviewed by Alice Merry

Best Man is a tough and beautiful reflection on the troubled life and death of Owen Lewis’ brother, and the impact of this loss on his family. The poet introduces his brother’s death paradoxically: “And I’ve never known how to think | about your end, so, often I just don’t.” Yet his brother’s death is a persistent, almost claustrophobic, presence in the book, like “a termite in the wood | of your brain”. Again and again, it seems that it is not the poet remembering, but the past intruding on his present life.

As the book progresses, there is a feeling of coming to terms with those memories – of making sense of them in the present. In ‘Introducing’, the brother’s presence is celebrated and welcomed, as he fulfils the role suggested by the book’s title: “Come with me. | Everyone, generations, will be | there, you’ll ride on my shoulder – | Best Man!”

This complicated give and take between the person remembering and the person remembered is signposted to the reader in the prologue (which is also, according to its title, a “Post Script”): “Taking every memory that came to me like a hand in the dark, | sometimes leading, sometimes waiting to be led, sometimes grabbing for your hand to wrestle | in the night”. It is hard to not to read this poem, and book, more broadly: as a signpost for loving through loss, pain and paradox, and in the end, choosing a place for memories in the present.