A Splinter of Glass by (Charles) Mike Doyle, Review

A Splinter of Glass,    Poems 1951-55

Charles Doyle

The Pegasus Press, New Zealand. 1956

From a signed copy, with the words:    “‘One end of a business deal!’   Mike Doyle.”

Note: the authors name on the title page is as Charles Doyle but he is more regularly published as Mike Doyle.

This is his first published book, a collection of 23 poems, the title one ‘ A Splinter of Glass’ is divided into seven sections.

The flap states he is Irish but other notes say he was born of Irish parents, in Birmingham, England.     Born 1928, served in the Royal Navy 1946 to 1954. Visited New Zealand in 1951 settled there after the Navy and became a school teacher.  Co- founded, co -edited ‘Numbers’.    The poem Splinter of Glass was granted the Jessie MacKay Memorial Award in 1955.

He settled in New Zealand for a few years then moved to Canada and remained there.  Now retired from his university in Victoria B.C..    He has had several books published on poetics as well as collections of poems, none as far as I can find published in the U.K..   All seem to be out of print currently.  This is a shame as I would like to set my hands on his ‘Collected Poems 1951 – 2009’  by Ekstasis in which he selected about a third of his then extant work for publication. There have been a couple of collections listed since then but again seem difficult to find at a price I can cope with, especially as they reside in Canada or the USA.

Poetry is massively written, massively read but not easily (economically) published throughout the English Speaking World as the purchasing public is so small.  As in fiction, only a small number of authors get published and an even smaller percentage become popular and have any sensible income.  Of course, as in all aspects of the Arts, or just Life, there are stellar successes which seem impossible.   Almost hidden from view may be as many good or better artists.  The trust and the hope is that those hidden gems will at some time see the light of day and find their space in that good old ‘firmament’.

I diverge, sorry, bad habit.

See Malahat Review website for review of collected poems by Mike Doyle

Winter Beach, the first poem moves from the rose-tint of summer memory as unreality.  Halfway through prods at the harshness of winter before relenting briefly, like an ‘Indian Summer’ before revealing the explosion of a winter storm.    Here is description with several layers for peeling and picking.      A Sea Change is the next poem.  The two are connected by the sea but here we immediately have a different style, rhythm and tone with little punctuation and elements of dislocation.  Ninth line before a punctuation stop where the explanation is found as to why images are solid though yet a little blurred.   If you look you find a little rhyme and some half-rhymes and numerous other poetic nuances but save that for later. Reading is the important element.   Here is a short poem written by a man in his mid-twenties, published sixty years ago, that catches emotion and story in a poem that re-reads again and again.     The poem in question:

A Sea Change

In the estuary as the trawlers sail

their salt fish up to the scuppers laden

the wharves black wet in the brawling winter gale

all that land but the heart’s acres hidden

in hangdog weather the cuff of the sea’s sleeve

ruffled and the waves hands plucking

greedily at the sand the squat sheds grieving

silent as empty churches and the wreck

two days now fast in the shadowy fathoms.

Only the divers simple messages come up

monotonous, moving, final as a requiem,

and the tides take hope out surely on the ebb.


This poet, in his first collection shows a great depth of artistry and storytelling.  This  suggests a passion, restlessness of mind and an overall melancholia that seems to accompany him.  Eight years in the Royal Navy must have given him the time and experiences to develop his poetic style and self.  He said he started writing poetry at about the age of thirteen but only at twenty three to feel some satisfaction with his work.  This first collection gives confirmation to his belief of himself and his poetry.

Reading through this book you might feel the touches of other poets echoing into your mind, for me it was often Dylan Thomas.   Whether they are your own bias in echoes of other poets or Doyle’s is moot.  What is important is the overall tales that slice through the series of images, often one that is unusual, as the circumstance of the pictures are powerful yet stated factually.

A Splinter of Glass, the title poem, in seven parts, seems a personal story of moving to and meeting with  ‘New World’ of New Zealand.

The main theme is surely the sea and distance, with the seasons weighed heavily by ‘black winter’ and loss/ death.

The poems, Old Maid and The Tower fill,the part of ‘simplest’  and more formal  than many while  A Window in the World and the last poem, Empirical History, both dip a toe into the metaphysical: of the Universe, its origins and Man’s place.

A Splinter of Glass is poetry of its day but fulfills its role still.  As a first collection it is assured and a voice with plenty to say.  My favourite poems have been picked out in the text above. I look forward to getting my hands on more of Mike Doyle’s work.

And for those keen to see the years roll by and a poet still enjoying life, just go to You Tube and type in:  Mike Doyle’s book launch part 5  

Book launch parts 1 to 6 are also available.


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