As Breath in Winter by William Reichard

Reviewed by James O’Leary

As with all MIEL publications, As Breath in Winter feels like a piece of art. With a first print edition of 130, this elegantly designed eight-poem chapbook feels made with personal care, and the poems within more than live up to what I have come to hope for from this publisher.

Reichard begins with an ekphrastic poem, responding to surrealist painter Yves Tanguy’s ‘Through Birds, Through Fire, But Not Through Glass’. We are taken on a journey described in micro and macro, a life spent travelling landscapes, skyscapes and dreamscapes, all leading to a moment of encounter. We are told at the midpoint of the poem:

I have come to tell you what I’ve seen, but now I can’t describe it.

Isn’t that what it’s like to stand before a piece of art that affects us deeply? Great art evokes true awe, big and quiet, something felt internally but that takes us outside of ourselves. Artists’ statements often talk about intention because pure description of this can be quite flat. There is also the question of subjectivity: though we think we see what is in front of us, so much is filled in by our expectations, past experiences, current temperament, and a myriad of other unconscious factors colouring our perception. This poem doesn’t bring me inside the mind of the painter, or even necessarily into the mind of the speaker, but right into the experience of looking at art and being moved by it. “I know you from the shape you are, the height, as you move through the milky light.”

In exploring the limitations of the physical and definable, the poem is all the while subtly connecting to what is happening on the canvas, achieving the linguistic equivalent of what Tanguy is doing in paint.

‘Making History’ and ‘Asylum’ explore the origin and meaning of words that have multiple purposes and implications depending on context. Like Reichard’s other poems, they isolate particular details before widening the scope and looking at how surrounding information sheds light on what is being investigated.

By whatever hand survives time, in whatever book on whatever shelf in whatever country. And the same story, in another language: not the same. I remember. You misremember. In every revision, mistakes or lies. George Washington: Father, I cannot tell a lie. The story itself, a lie. / Chronological: from Chronos, a titan who ate his own children.

In ‘Oculars’ there is always more to see if one looks closely, encapsulated perfectly in the line “Underneath every thing, another thing.” I am reminded of times I have been amazed by details I suddenly notice in my house or workplace, areas I am intimately familiar with but have never deliberately and thoroughly inspected.

This rigorous treatment of subject matter is equally evident in the artistry of the writing. Every sentence is purposeful and evocative, with specificity in the placing of words on the page. ‘Other Shores’ in particular draws the eye back and forth rhythmically, each line slightly untethered but falling gently into the next. The craftsmanship is confident, language and form continuously mirroring and elevating each other.

Each poem is distinct and striking on its own, but as a collection they interact beautifully, conversing softly with one another. This is a book I can see myself returning to again and again. It is a true pleasure to read, intellectually compelling, emotionally profound and expertly crafted. A book to pay attention to; the more you look, the more it offers.