THE SECRET OF ARCHERY by Alessio Zanelli – review by Lynn Woollacott


THE SECRET OF ARCHERY by Alessio Zanelli  2019, 72 pp, £12.99, Greenwich Exchange, Available from:  ISBN: 978-1-910996-30-0

The opening poem ‘Leave’ in seven concise lines, brings colour and place, ‘rainbows fixed across the dale / a watercolour sun afloat upon cloud-rags / dry-stone walls and branches whistling in the gale …’ The play on senses and imagery is profound and the penultimate line, ‘pushing forward apace back home in slanting liquid light …’ is evocative. The movement of pushing forward is linked to many of the poems in Zanelli’s fifth collection – a passionate long distance runner, the pace and rhythm echoes throughout these journeying poems, slowing and running, often stopping to take in the views as the narrator reflects of life, present and past, in mizzle, fog, snow and sun in his adopted English language:

Alone in the fog
amid the faded countryside.

No sign of movement
a furlong all around.

Unbroken silence,
then caws of distant crows

[‘Solo Run’]

The narrator glimpses into his past, in ‘The Picture’ a darkness of mood sweeps across two faces, ‘a bitter smile, as twisted as fleeting, / for an instant the impulse to tear it …’ This is closely followed by ‘Twone’ musing on his father, the similarities in appearance contrasts the differences, at times, between them. A crafted concrete poem shaped like an hourglass, the senses play out on childhood memories in landscape, and ‘rapturous wonder’ filters through the centre into pictures ‘crammed into a fancied chest locked up / and never reopened. Like the real one filled up with / old clothes // abandoned in the loft …’ a dusty lot of times gone by.  So that when the first line of, ‘The Pin’ tells us ‘I had been planning routes since I was born,’ we understand there are deeper metaphorical levels at work in the undertones.

A short sequence of dark mystical poems follows, night-time poems, ‘the spool’s unwound // the weaver’s hand’s worn out …’ weaving turns to walking, leading nowhere but to itself. ‘Insomniacs’ brings a sense of being fearful, the journey is shortening. The lovely ‘Witch of Heads Lane’ brings more eeriness, words like, harp, hooded druid, a hexed vicar, add to the mystery. ‘Stardustling’ lives up to its title, metaphoric for life’s journey, jackals, vultures, poisoned watering places, and then the last three lines, ‘Then you will finally be able to pick out / from the cacophonous background chaos / the luringly omnipresent call of stars.’ Running on through the landscapes the pace and range passes through wonderful scene changes, ‘The sun still rises from the Dardanelles / draws an arc to Africa,’ in ‘Mare Nostrum’. Historically in ‘Culloden Moor’ and in Tuscany, ‘anointed with the smell of pines and oleanders / heavy paces beat the time …’

There are many memorable poems in this collection, the sensitive closing poems enhance this, warmth filters through in shards and shafts as Zanelli hones in on mortality and happiness. The poignant ‘Up to Val Ventina’, in rain, in torrents, in footfall, along a lone ascent, erratic snowfall, either trudging or apace and even on the run, Zanelli’s choice of words is beautiful. And the closing title poem balances life in the arrow on the string of a bow, aware that we are often shaped by others and ageing, is a poem that will stay with me. It’s not surprising most of the poems in ‘The Secret of Archery’ have been published by journals across the globe, in this thoughtful, scenic journey.

            The Secret of Archery

Most have it
that they trace their course,
set their targets,
decide when and where
to aim the arrow.
A tiny few realize
that others string the bow
then nock and draw it –
so hard a fact to accept.
All grow old
buying and fantasizing
they’re the masters of their lives,
and they go on and on,
convinced it is themselves
that set and keep them going.
Once gone that far,
nobody can stop them
or turn them away from their mark.
They know no love, no hate,
nothing at all;
they have no real will,
no wishes, hopes, scruples, regrets,
insight, first or second thoughts.
They’re not the brain in this,
they’re not the eye,
they’re not the hand,
they’re not the bow,
they’re not the string.
Yes – they are the arrow.
And the wait, the wait …
the wait once drawn,
while shaking in tension,
is wearing them out
more than the fear of missing.
But much less than the one
of never being released.


Lynn Woollacott

Lynn Woollacott is a reviewer for Reach Poetry Magazine, and has had reviews in Envoi and Ink Sweat and Tears. Lynn has been widely published and won prizes for poetry, and has two collections with Indigo Dreams Publishing. Her historical romance is available on Amazon.

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