Steve Ely reviews ‘Crow Flight across the Sun’

Crow Flight across the Sun by Mike Di Placido, Calder Valley Poetry, 2017, 58pp., £8.00 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-9997062-1-0

Mike Di Placido’s second collection, Crow Flight across the Sun, returns frequently to the themes and content – autobiographical reflection, animals, Yorkshire, heroes – of his previous pamphlet, Theatre of Dreams.1 However, whereas the earlier work contains references to a number of figures from his personal pantheon, including Amy Winehouse, Bill Gates, Mahalia Jackson, Madonna, and Harry Houdini, Crow Flight across the Sun narrows the focus onto the eponymous ‘Crow’ – Ted Hughes, theabiding passion of Di Placido’s life.

Both Theatre of Dreams and Crow Flight across the Sun are characterised by a gently self-deprecating tone in which the author adopts the persona of an unexceptional everyman figure, doomed to fall short of the unattainable standards of his heroes. Theatre of Dreams contains a poem in which a speaker resigned to his quotidian life nevertheless wishes he could be more like Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. In the title sequence, the speaker compares himself unfavourably with four footballing giants – Sir Matt Busby, Denis Law, Nobby Stiles and George Best (DiPlacido was a professional footballer and was briefly on Manchester United’s booksalongside his heroes). Theatre of Dreams also contains a poem entitled ‘On Not Being Ted Hughes’, in which the author light-heartedly mocks himself (‘silly bugger’) for thenaively un-Hughesian way in which he ‘picked up’ an apparently dozing bank vole,leading to unspecified, but presumably mildly-embarrassing, rather than disastrous consequences. Di Placido also includes this poem in Crow Flight across the Sun and its tone and method are emblematic of a book in which the author writes about, and in the spirit of Hughes – the book is explicitly ‘a tribute to a great inspiration’ – but consistently places himself and his work emphatically in his shadow, as a ‘mere’ poetaster, fan and devotee. However, Di Placido’s technical and lexical gifts, hislightness of touch, whimsical voice, and an understated artistic seriousness combine to signal that we should not take his self-deprecation at face value – poetic gold glints and flashes from these poems, even from under the shadow of the crow.

1 Mike Di Placido, Theatre of Dreams (Sheffield: Smith/Doorstop, 2009).102



The collection’s introductory poem, ‘Metamorphosis’, is an audaciously comic nod to Hughes’s translations of Ovid predicated on a gentle self-satirisation – the diminutive Di Placido imagines himself transforming into Hughes in the same way as MarvelComics’ Bruce Banner transforms into another superhero:

Suddenly I’m six-foot-plus.
My shoes have burst their laces.
I stand in tatters like the Incredible Hulk.

The poem becomes a list of distinctive Hughesian characteristics, a checklist of the elements comprising the Ideal Form of the poet: physical size, a deep resonant voice,an obsession with ‘vitality’ and the natural world, acute observational skills, and Native American-like one-ness with nature, all become necessary pre-conditions for being able to write poetry. Only having transformed into Hughes is the speaker ready to compose:

I feel immense. Opening
My jotter I fumble for a pen. I start to write.

For all its comic audacity, ‘Metamorphosis’ is nevertheless a very traditional openingto a collection of poetry – an invocation of the Muse, and the Muse is Hughes. I’m notsure Hughes would have approved of being appropriated in this way. Like Robert Graves, he regarded the Muse as being female. As Graves reminds us in The White Goddess, the ‘gentle muse’ invoked by Milton in Lycidas may have been referred to as‘he’, but this conceit follows a more conventional invocation of the ‘sisters of the sacredwell’. But in matters of inspiration, the poetic heart goes where it will – and charisma trumps all.

Di Placido finds more inspiration from Hughes in a sequence of poems that seems to arise from an opportunity he had to see and handle various artefacts once owned by Hughes, now in a private collection – a ‘Mont Blanc’ fountain pen, a ‘Scarf’, a ceramic ‘Jaguar’ crafted by the poet, and a limited-edition Morrigu Press broadsideof ‘Puma’. Di Placido simultaneously admits and affirms the absurdity of his delight at being able to handle these artefacts in a deft formulation:

I think mediaeval –
of saints and relics –
and don’t feel stupid at all
when I ask you if I can touch it. (‘Scarf’)

The quasi-devotional nature of his admiration of Hughes is further developed in ‘Mont Blanc’, when he compares the act of writing with Hughes’s pen to the sacrilegious ‘Uber-fraud’ of ‘wearing / Bestie’s boots / or Sinatra’s hats’ – more gods from DiPlacido’s pantheon. Although Rebecca Watts has recently called into question


‘honesty’ as a literary-critical criterion, there is something disarming about the open and unguarded adulation of Hughes that Di Placido expresses in these poems – perfectly characterised as ‘Blakean innocence’ by Ed Reiss in his rear-cover encomium.2

Not all the poems in Crow Flight across the Sun are directly about Hughes,although his influence and spirit are never far away. Animal poems such as ‘Hare’, ‘Heron’, and ‘Fox’ capture the essence of the encounter and are vividly empathetic:

Stopped dead in our tracks at the hedge-corner –you, still and alert, plugged into danger – me,delighted at such a gift […]

So delighted, in fact, that my involuntary clicking
of fingers and tongue (as though you were a horse
or the neighbour’s dog) shames me absolutely still. (‘Fox’)

Now he’s off again:
Going like the clappers
Over the furrows, doing that Buckled
Bicycle wheel number

As though
Just for the hell of it. (‘Hare’)

Above all, there is an affirmation of life and vitality underpinning these poems, an instinctive – and perhaps ideological – endorsement of and commitment to the erosembodied in the natural world that owes as much to Nietzsche or Lawrence as Hughes. The Crow-like ‘A Half Baked Theological Fairy Tale’ imagines the founders of the(presumably) life-denying religions of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism annihilatedalong with their religions in some apocalyptic disaster, from which nature emerges ‘in perfection’ from the homocidal wreckage of the Anthropocene – ‘the singing of birds /the crashing of the oceans, / the smiling of the green man’. This beaming misanthropy shares something of the outlook of John Kinsella, in poems such as ‘Passage ThroughIcebergs (Painted as Voyage to Labrador by Alfred Wallis, 1935–6)’ and ‘The Sea IsWild Today And The No Swim Signs Are Up Everywhere’, from Marine, his recent collaboration with Alan Jenkins, in which he imagines the end of eco-cidal humanity with barely disguised pleasure.3

‘Shklovsky’s Sparrow’ – perhaps the best poem in the book – imagines asparrow transformed into a metallic angel in the ‘crackling static’ of the moment of his

2 Rebecca Watts, ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur’, PN Review 239
3 Alan Jenkins and John Kinsella, Marine (London: Enitharmon Press, 2015).



death. Although the language contains unmistakeable echoes of Hughes – the ‘blue crackling air’ of ‘Bayonet Charge’, the ‘chattering static’ of Prometheus on His Crag,the ‘crackle’ of ‘Thistles’ – the poem’s most direct source seems to be the Russian theorist Victor Shklovsky’s essay, ‘Return the Ball into the Game’, a reflection on Pasolini’s film ‘The Hawks and the Sparrows’.4 Pasolini’s fantasy has the hawks andthe sparrows converted to Christianity by idealistic monks. However, despite their conversion to the gospel of love, the hawks remain true to their nature and continue to prey on the sparrows. Di Placido eschews an on-the-nose Marxist interpretation of the parable in favour of one that is distinctly Hughesian. For a sparrow, as for allmortal beings, death is merely the inevitable risk of life. Like the tiger in Hughes’s poem ‘Tiger Psalm’ (originally entitled ‘Crow’s Table Talk’), the hawk ‘blesses’ when itkills and in the moment of its death the sparrow is sanctified and becomes ‘a chirruping saint’ (in a heaven that seems to be the thermonuclear pleroma of a spiritualised Heraclitean universe, ‘blazing [with] light’). The sparrow risked life and lost; but the point of life is not to bemoan the fact of death or to seek to avoid the risks of living, but to embrace those risks and live life in its natural fullness. The point of life is also the point of art – in Shklovsky’s words, appropriated by Di Placido as the epigraph for hispoem, ‘art exists that one may recover the sensation of life’. Expressing the sensationof life – exhilaration, danger, excitement, vitality, lust, love, joy, grief – is fundamentalto Hughes’s utterance and it is this dimension of his work that Di Placido finds so compelling. In this modest and engaging collection he manages to express some of that himself.

Steve Ely
University of Huddersfield © 2018, Steve Ely

Thanks to Steve for permission to reproduce this review, which first appeared in Volume VII Issue 1 of the Ted Hughes Society Journal (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s