critical reception: commentary

Comments concerning P.W. Bridgman’s 2021 book of poetry entitled Idiolect:

Idiolect is a lively, marvellous collection of lyrics, vignettes and short, fleet-footed narratives teeming with history and language. The various Englishes—North American and Hibernian—of this collection commingle into rich and textured expression all its author’s own. Timely anxieties about politics and technology’s ever-refining intelligence sit alongside poems composed by the iPhone; fluent and agile riffs on poets of the past—Louis MacNeice particularly—keep company with takes on paintings and photographs, and elsewhere riff along to Kind of Blue. A generous, capacious collection touched throughout with technical skill and compassion.

Stephen Sexton, poet and 2020 winner of the
Forward Prize for Best First Collection,
the E.M. Forster Award and the
Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

If Idiolect, as the dictionary suggests, is about individual speech habits, P.W. Bridgman is to be congratulated for his amazing range of diction, from colloquial idioms to elevated speech and delightful rhetorical hijinks. He is, in turn, playful, sly, ironic, satirical, combining a strong narrative bent with a judge’s keen eye for human foibles. His new book offers surprise after surprise, with perhaps the fattest sonnets ever written, some lines pushing thirty syllables, but whipped into shape by wickedly clever end-rhymes. 

Gary Geddes, poet and author of
What Does A House Want?
and editor of 20th-Century
Poetry and Poetics
 (5th edition)
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Comments concerning P.W. Bridgman’s 2021 book of short stories and flash fiction entitled The Four-Faced Liar:

Signs and portents are everywhere in these pages. An observer, trying to interpret the ethnicity of a bike courier struck down by a car, is thwarted in his craving to “other” the fallen man by the drape of hair of the woman who comes to the victim’s aid, and then, later, by a news report that places the death at the centre of the story instead of the colour of the lost man’s skin.  Objects have meaning in these stories, even:  “pizza boxes, plastic Chinese food containers … wine bottles … the remains of a cheap Oriental vase [especially the cheap Oriental vase], a souvenir lamp from Paris, a brass toasting fork from Canterbury bent in two”.

There are writers who spin stories gently and abundantly on a wide and clattering loom. The Four-Faced Liar has passages of this kind, but Bridgman’s overall approach is one of economy of word, sentence and phrase. That stepfather on the ladder is dispatched in a sentence. The generous gift to a wayward wife is bestowed in another. Bridgman’s characters often receive writing akin to their natures. In “Bells for Geordie: 1962,” a florid mother gets her hour of drama, “sobbing and banging on the windshield” of the car in which her awkward son is whisked away, while he, young and to-be-pitied, is silent, “clutching a small, government-issued toy bear.”

Love is everywhere in this collection, but it is slanted, past, departed, oblique, damaged and obscured. True love is declared in a sealed envelope but we are not witness to its opening.  A clock ticks toward the discovery of an event affecting a beloved child, “ like an unexploded artillery shell” but we do not see it go off.  A bereaved mother and the truth miss each other by inches. The trap is laid, the noose prepared, and our imaginings may be worse, or better than what actually happens next.

And language. We read Bridgman for language. Who else but he could describe thus the gentle birth of a longed-for child, who is “forced out with ease like an edamame bean from its soft, salty green shell”?

Anne Giardini, novelist and author of
(most recently) Advice for Italian Boys
(HarperCollins, 2009)
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Comments concerning P.W. Bridgman’s 2018 book of poems entitled A Lamb:

“Prepare to be entertained by a poet who has not been barracked and drilled by the mainstream trends and techniques of current Canadian poetry. P.W. Bridgman is an open, free-agent versifier …”

George McWhirter, poet
and winner (with Chinua Achebe) of
the Commonwealth Poetry Prize

“I eavesdrop on public transport.  P.W. Bridgman’s A Lamb provides a similar pleasure and host to the imagination.  The reader borne here, there, everywhere — listening in from beginning to end.  Languages.  Argot.  Scene after scene.  Plot twists.  Humour.  Families.  Characters who squirm, sink, surface, get entangled.  Uninhibited poems versed in tradition.  Open hearted, quick-witted poems.  Live theatre — the theatre of lives.  Poetry as public transport.  A ride that left me reflecting.”

Jane Munro, poet
and winner (with Michael Longley) of
the Griffin Poetry Prize

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Comments concerning P.W. Bridgman’s 2013 selection of short fiction entitled Standing at an Angle to My Age:

“Reading Bridgman is like watching a brilliant scientist at work. He places his characters under a high-powered microscope, and then brings them into clear and merciless focus, so that we see their fascinating complexity, their furtive yearnings and the pulsing of their startled hearts.”

Anne Giardini, novelist and author
of The Sad Truth About Happiness
(HarperCollins, 2005) and Advice for
Italian Boys (HarperCollins, 2009)

“These stories are startling, the way that the short stories of Raymond Carver are. With masterful, authorial assurance, P.W. Bridgman leads you into a quiet, recognizable neighbourhood on an ordinary day. And then he delivers an ending that is like a gunshot ringing out. The sound reverberates back to reveal, with fresh impact and insight, both character and event. As the work progresses, the effect on the reader is cumulative. An eerie suspense develops, as disquieting (yet satisfying) as a mystery novel.”

Leslie Hall Pinder, novelist and
author of Bring Me One of Everything
(Grey Swan Press, 2012),
On Double Tracks (Lester &
Orpen Dennys, 2002) and Under the
House (Vintage Canada, 1990)

“What a privilege to read this beautiful collection of 18 short stories from England, Ireland and Canada. From the mysterious and magical Mr. Pound, to Bridgman’s final tale of gossip and truth, the author’s tales take me back to incidents of my own youth, lessons so many of us forget too soon. P.W. Bridgman has mastered the art of description, from an intimate peek into the neighbours’ kitchen on a Sunday morning, to a tragic act of wartime betrayal, to young love, to the dignity of a man’s last days. This is a collection you’ll want to recommend to friends, young and old.”

Ben Nuttall-Smith, novelist and
author of Blood, Feathers and Holy Men
(Libros Libertad Publishing, 2010)
and Secrets Kept/Secrets Told
(Libros Libertad Publishing, 2012)

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Comments concerning other examples of P.W. Bridgman’s published fiction and poetry:

“[Poetry Makes Nothing Happen, Or So It’s Said, from Idiolect, is] an ambitous narrative glosa… This poem plunges us into a lunch-hour conversation between two surgeons — artfully referred to as ‘the lung man’ and the ‘heart man’ — who debate a difficult ethical question regarding two of their patients. The poet cleverly veils the dilemma in the spitfire conversation between the two who dispute the merits of emotion (that poetry offers) versus pure intellect (espoused by science). The core message of this poem hinges in a memory the ‘heart man’ recalls when, as a youth, he was spurned by a poetry-loving girl despite his efforts to recite poems to her: ‘You’ve / looked it up in books and you’ve got it all wrong’ she’d say to me, laughing.’ The conversation is witty and sometimes ironic — as noted in the title — where we come to realize that poetry indeed can move people to make ‘things’ happen, and illustrated when the ‘heart man’ exclaims, ‘The heart is not just a muscle.’ This is a smart poem — energetic, mentally and emotionally engaging — simultaneously making us grimace and smile.”

Angela Rebrec, poet and
poetry judge for the 2021
Royal City Literary Arts Society’s
WriteOn! Competition

“[‘A Family Gathers’] is a quiet poem packed with illuminating detail.  A family sits around a table with their lawyer, going over a will.  The are being required to accept that a deceased man (father, husband) had sired a son unknown to them.  The 16 lines tell a huge story which spans history, nationhood, secrets and family.  Amazingly, much of the telling is through descriptions of chipped dishes, a frayed tablecloth and the family arms.  Skilfully, the poet uses a sold rhyme scheme that does not interfere with the tale.  I look forward to hearing the poet read the piece out loud.”

June Godwin, poet and
poetry judge for the 2019
Royal City Literary Arts Society’s
WriteOn! Competition

“… moving and accomplished work …”

Ian Colford, former editor
of Pottersfield Portfolio and author of
(most recently) The Crimes of Hector
Tomas (Freehand Books, 2012)

“… slightly surreal and enormously entertaining …”

Deborah McMenamy, editor of
Labello Press and winner of the
Eric Hoffer Editors’ Choice Award
for Fiction (2011)

“The narrative is simple and straightforward; the language of the telling is brilliant, lyrical. A delight to read and I would think a delight to hear read aloud.”

Sharon Riis, sometime judge
of fiction competitions for Grain and
author of (among other titles)
The True Story of Ida Johnton
(The Women’s Press, 1976)

“… a brilliant exposition of Irish Catholic life and the relationship between a young couple and [the young woman’s] family …”

Polly Robinson, author and
contributor to anthologies such as
The Survivor’s Guide to Bedlam
(B. Wrixon Books, 2012)