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The Footing Anthology (Longbarrow Press, 2013)

The Footing Anthology (Longbarrow Press, 2013)

An anthology of poems by Angelina Ayers, James Caruth, Mark Goodwin, Rob Hindle, Andrew Hirst, Chris Jones, Fay Musselwhite.

(www.longbarrowpress.com)

The introduction by Brian Lewis sets the scene for this highly attractive anthology of poems which is the ‘result of a long-term engagement with the ideas and practices of walking; an engagement that, in many cases, starts at home.’ Brian reflects upon the idea attributed to Wordsworth that walking is not simply a mode of travelling, but of being. This reflection immediately made me think of the piece from Lyrical Ballads 1798, ‘Old Man Travelling, Animal Tranquillity and Decay, a Sketch’ which concludes with the lines

‘—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
“Sir! I am going many miles to take
“A last leave of my son, a mariner,
“Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
“And there is dying in an hospital.”’

From Isabella Fenwick’s note, dictated to her by the poet in 1843, there is a suggestion that this poem was ‘an overflowing from the old Cumberland Beggar’ and that phrase ‘overflowing’ seems particularly pertinent to this beautifully produced volume from Longbarrow Press in which ‘Familiar ways are made unfamiliar by acts of attention to hitherto unseen details.’

In James Caruth’s poem ‘Procession’ there is a Wordsworthian moment in which the current scene is juxtaposed with the more distant world in which ‘Somewhere, important events are taking place’. Running throughout these poems there is a thread which links a sharply perceived moment with the world of distant wars. ‘Close of Play’ has a newspaper front page which lies on a pub table:

‘The front page of a discarded newspaper
flaps open on a picture of young faces
in desert fatigues, blank eyes staring
below headlines of zones, and new offensives.’

In ‘Memorial’ ‘another day ends in Helmand / as two young men kick the desert / from their boots, stare at a camera lens / and think of home as a village like this.’ There are echoes here of course of poems written during the 1914-18 War and both Edward Thomas and Ivor Gurney spring to mind. Gurney’s ‘Crickley Hill’ concludes

‘You hills of home, woodlands, white roads and inns
That star and line our darling land, still keep
Memory of us; for when first day begins
We think of you and dream in the first sleep
Of you and yours—
Trees, bare rocks, flowers
Daring the blast on Crickley’s distant steep.’

Close to the end of this collection there is Rob Hindle’s ‘Nether Edge’ with its echoes of another great walker, Thomas Hardy:

‘Allotments terrace the edge,
the climb fenced with privet and old doors.
Light clings here, setting fires in the glass.
The soil beds are mounded with carpets
or left bare for frosts to crack them.

There is nothing here that bombs
would make a difference. All those houses
wrecked, lives spilled into the street
like seeds; but this low-rent fallowland
persists, all ruin and renewal.’

This is a wonderfully uplifting anthology of poems; there is a sense of continuity which reaches back into history and landscape. Fay Musselwhite’s ‘Path Kill’ focuses on returns as ‘Woodlouse and fly families later, / flat stacked in fraying layers / dog-eared rug-matted black / leaf-like in leaves, secret / in bramble and buttercup, ransacked, leaching back.’ The purposeful human connotation in ‘flat stacked’ is poised above a word of parting and growth (‘leaves’) before concluding with the present participle, ‘leaching’, in which the dissolution involved in an agricultural process is juxtaposed against the image of ‘Woodlouse’, ‘secret’ and ‘back’. It is as if we are being presented with a vulnerability overcome by a tenacity.

This is a poetry of inscription and record and a frost ‘will crust this nave / for stone years, bone years, well-deep years’ (Chris Jones, ‘The Doom or Last Judgement’)

Reading through this anthology prompted me to turn back to that 1973 book by Donald Davie, Thomas Hardy and British Poetry:

‘Hardy’s feeling for topography and locality, as somehow conditioning the human lives lived under their influence more powerfully than any theory available to him or to us can allow for, is something that can and does persist, as a tradition, quite athwart the evident discontinuities, between him and us, in the way that artistic form, and specifically poetic form, is conceived.’

These lines immediately precede Davie’s focus on some of the early poems of J.H. Prynne and glancing at these comments I rooted out that early piece of criticism by Prynne, a review of Samuel Hynes’s book The Pattern of Hardy’s Poetry, which appeared in Victorian Studies 5, 1961-2:

‘…the deliberate identification of “style” with “tone”, as a means of substantiating the poet’s self-effacement in favour of the real particular world, is well pointed up.’

Ian Brinton 25th September 2014

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