No guiding star might not be an instantly powerful phrase from a poetic standpoint but, from the off, you can understand why the title of John Mills’ latest poetry collection matters. It offers readers a spark of hope from even the darkest of places.
While the collection is unflinching in its exploration of chronic illness, it’s not the only subject that Mills investigates. In Nothing on My Mind, Mills plays with the lines of each stanza, shifting them around and using ordered repetition, which highlights Mills’ innovative and imaginative use of form. He is able to capture and transmit his own experience through structure. As we hear repeated phrases paired next to others, the meanings begin to alter. This is one of the best examples of Mills’ navigation of form.
Another poem that encapsulates his unique narrative voice is Total immersion. This is present in clipped phrases such as ‘lungs grasp at empty air’ and ‘skin-shrinking cold’; the desired atmosphere is created with the potency of a war poem. These lines are notably shorter than others, again proving that Mills knows how to create sensory implications, carefully selecting exactly what to say and, even more crucially, when to say it.
The Persistence of Water delves into metaphysics but does so subtly. In poetry, choosing abstract concepts is rather dicey territory if you can’t make your point well. But Mills doesn’t seem to struggle and has crafted this piece superbly. The linear line toward the end of the poem discusses how water ‘carves, scrapes, cajoles’. These words are musical, mimicking the multiple ways in which water can simultaneously move. Also, note how the word ‘cajoles’ is enjambed, actively showing the flow of water. It’s yet another standout poem, ending strongly. Earlier in the poem, Mills refers to ‘it [water] does not know’ and chooses to close with the line: ‘why it measures times in stalactites’. The poem consists of 13 lines, which appear as a rigid column containing and condensing the flow of his thoughts, etched slowly into existence.
In the final poem, Restoration, the significance of the title is most evident. The line ‘guiding along the grain’ takes the titular word and again applies it in physical reality. For all of us, reality can be tough and complex, especially so in the current climate.
What John Mills’ poetry does is offer enough light to find your own way.
No guiding star by John Mills is published by Fair Acre Press and available to buy now