Book review: Figures From the Undergrowth by Donald Armfield

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Available from Amazon

“Donald Armfield’s immunity to the hurricane named Lucifer who drags people to Hell is what allows him to write the kind of poetry that gets underneath your skin, and sends an electric shock through the reader’s veins. “Figures From the Undergrowth” is a one-of-a-kind collection of material that should find a home on any serious poetry connoisseur’s bookshelf. – Red Focks, Alien Buddha Press”

This book was tough for me to review. I loved the title. I love poetry. I went out of my way to hit the author up for a review copy, and I read it in a single sitting and then I felt… stuck.

One thing I love about poetry is that it accommodates for all types. Form and content know no limits. The poetry in this collection isn’t quite what I was expecting when I picked it up. It’s clear Donald Armfield has a passion for poetry, and that his passion focuses on the dark, nightmarish, grotesque, in a strangely poetic way.

After I read this collection I moved on to the next books in my review list but didn’t muster up the words to piece together a review. I had to take a step back and make sure I gave this book the time and thought to really process what I had read. So I went back and reread it over the space of a few days and made note of a few things.

The most notable thing I found which kept me from just pumping out another review is that this poetry collection is quite short, yet it’s very rough around the edges. I found myself switching my editor’s brain on and noting things like apostrophes where there shouldn’t be, and no apostrophes where there should. Now, poetry is a subjective art form where you can extract even more pleasure from a poem by breaking the rules. I don’t think this was an intentional device in this collection. I found myself questioning comma placements, line breaks, tense shifts as simple things which could easily be changed to improve the flow of the poems. I found these issues jarring in a way which kept me from digging into the meat of the poems and really enjoying their content.

Because once I stepped back and actively switched that editor brain off there was a lot of great imagery and storytelling in Armfield’s work. The centrepiece of the collection is the self-titled poem, Figures From the Undergrowth, which is a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. The first time I read through this I didn’t really get it. Then at the end of the poem was the tip of the hat to Van Gogh. I think signalling the poem to Van Gogh at the start rather than the end would have framed the context of the poem better, as I found the second time around that the poem really came to life, the imagery had more clarity to it than before, and it gave the illusion of movement to the poetry and image which reflected Van Gogh’s artwork.

For what it’s worth, I can see and appreciate what Armfield is doing here, but this could have easily been a better collection if there had been a bit more time spent polishing it up. I look forward to seeing what he comes out with next, provided that it has that necessary editorial touch-up spent on it.

Next review: Kingdom of Teeth by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason

Last review: Mud Season by Justin Grimbol

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One thought on “Book review: Figures From the Undergrowth by Donald Armfield

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  1. I should probably mention my oversight in this review regarding Vincent Van Gogh’s influence on Armfield’s poetry. I’m somewhat familiar with his paintings (certainly his style) but not so much the titles, with the title of the collection referencing Van Gogh’s painting “Undergrowth With Two Figures”.

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