Missel-Child by Helen Tookey
One of the links connecting the prose poems of Francis Ponge and the early poetry of Charles Tomlinson is a concern for boundaries, edges, limits that define what is just visible before the limit is decided. Tomlinson called it ‘space made articulate’:
The shore between wall and wall;
Tearing the silence from the silence.
Ponge wrote about steering to the edges of things so that we can recognise them. Helen Tookey’s first full-length volume of poems also brings into focus a clear vision of where one world meets another. Whether it be in the epigraph quotation from Sir Hugh Plat’s Herbarium of 1653, aptly called The Garden of Eden, or in the emergence of a lost world at Formby Point, these remarkably haunting poems give us a vision of ‘what’s lost’ being ‘everywhere’. The flatlands at Burscough and the flat lines on a page offer ‘black coffers’ which ‘lie rich with the drowned.’ I used the word haunting about these poems because time and again I am struck by a past which, palimpsest as it appears, has a vivid tangibility that can be uncovered: footprints which have become lithographic over time, uncovered, become alive with the validity of their presence:
four-toes, twisted, no use
at the hunt; this girl, months-heavy, inching
her way, clawed feet curled hard into the mud;
and the children, quick, unhurried, knowing
themselves alone possessed of a future.
These children suggest kinship with those whose hidden and excited quickness of laughter were connected to ‘Time past and time future’ in ‘Burnt Norton’.
Just as the tide uncovers the relics left by ocean the narrator of ‘Cockleshells’ contemplates the margin between presence and absence:
merely yesterday’s meanings but
you are already translated, turning
towards the bright months while I
collect October’s cockleshells,
curetted cleanly by the sea.
One of the most intriguing and compelling poems in this book is ‘Hollow Meadows’ which opens with a quotation from the early notebooks of Gerard Manley Hopkins in which he gives some definitions of ‘Hollow’ relating the word to ‘hull (of ships and plants)’ and then skulls/heads which are both hollow and ‘hold’. Hopkins ends by suggesting the shape of Hell. Tookey’s poem guides us through a range of memories and extracts circling around these definitions of hollowness before concluding with one of those boundary moments where one world intrudes momentarily and eerily upon another. Hopkins was well aware of Hell and in his 1883 ‘Meditation’ on the subject he wrote ‘And as it is by the imagination that we are to realize these things so I suppose it to be by the imagination that the lost suffer them and that as intensely as by the senses or it may be more so.’
Helen Tookey’s imaginative realization of worlds just beyond the visible horizons is both striking and deeply enchanting: take care!
Ian Brinton 27th January 2014.