Review of ‘Round The Houses’ by Dan Hartigan

Published by Shoals of Starlings Press.

This collection by Dan Hartigan is an extraordinary, lyrical  meditation by a builder-poet, on the houses we inhabit, and on the breakdown of physical and spiritual aspects of home. It is haunting, in the sense that we meet the shattered, neglected bones of various buildings, and see odd wisps of their owners’ stories. Each poem has the street address of a house.

In ‘Westhill Road’, Dan plays with repetition, to paint a picture of how essential are these places where we live, that cocoon us, and yet are subject to time and decay.   

‘And houses wrap round lightning wires,

and houses play with pipes and fires,

the houses wrestle with their rust,

and rend their render all to dust’.

There is wonderful evocation of the solid nature of building materials and the sheer slog involved in the job.

‘Tempered glass has a weight to it/that could come down and split worlds.’

And on clearing one cottage of waste, a cottage that has ‘walls as level as an 1850s pyramid scheme’  the poet documents the sweeping away of people’s domestic history.  

‘Kintsugi cracks catch at bags

I’m hauling to the tip, dragging

into skips like scraps of paper

down Winston’s memory hole.’

This is a collection to stop and make you think about the spaces we inhabit. You may even begin to see  builders as unsung witnesses of the cycles of life and death, of refurbishment and decay, that play out in all our houses.