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Bloodlines by Andy Brown (Worple Press)

Bloodlines by Andy Brown (Worple Press)

The title of these poems suggests two different things to my mind. The bloodlines that flow through our bodies are those veins and arteries that pump our sense of immediacy: they keep the ‘here’ and ‘now’ moving. The bloodlines that connect us to our past remind us of the more established patterns that might be traceable over centuries. One of the more extreme versions of the possible connections between past and present is a belief in cryonic preservation and Andy Brown’s quietly humane poem ‘Committal’ opens by contemplating this:

“Today a teenage girl secured her right
to have herself cryonically preserved

so maybe in five hundred years, or more,
once mutation’s mystery has been solved,

her body may be warmed to stir again
and she can live the life she’s barely led.”

There is a moving tone to this picture as we are confronted with youth’s clutch at a straw and it is given a greater emotional emphasis by being juxtaposed with a mature awareness of what one might be able to pass on to future generations if one did not have life taken away so young. The poet’s own wish for commitment to the ground involves being interred “deep in loamy woodland soil” and having a sapling oak planted above his head:

“so hair and skin and bone may be reborn

in twig and leaf, in xylem, riddled bark;
so the seep of muscle and marrow may

replenish soil, feed worm and ant and moth…”

There is perhaps enormous comfort in thinking that what we do feeds the life that goes on after our death although, as Hamlet recognized, the idea is threaded with ironies because after all “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm”. When Claudius asks the meaning of this he is told that it reveals “how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar”. In ‘Committal’ the word “feed” occurs three times and the important emphasis is on how the present feeds the future and, of course, how the past feeds the present. The last couplet of the poem has a fine echo to it and we are made aware of the tentative connections between ‘now’ and ‘then’:

“just let the faintest hints of musk remain:
that trace and pulse of what we must become.”

The trace and pulse, both aspects of a bloodline, present us with the hints of a past that bodies forth into a present as with Hardy’s ‘The Voice’ where he can almost see again his young girlfriend standing outside the town where they used to meet some forty years ago “where you would wait for me”. The memory is held in the air, like a scent, and he is almost seeing the way she was dressed “even to the original air-blue gown”. This is a history that offers those “faintest hints”, or what Hardy recalled about returning from a walk after Emma’s death, “that underlying sense / Of the look of a room on returning thence”. In Julian Barnes’s novel, Flaubert’s Parrot, the narrator wonders about how we can seize the past and recalls an anecdote from his college-days in which a piglet smeared with grease was let loose at the end of term dance:

“It squirmed between legs, evaded capture, squealed a lot. People fell over trying to grasp it, and were made to look ridiculous in the process. The past often seems to behave like that piglet.”

There is of course that less immediately personal bloodline that connects us with a common past: our inheritance of central feelings such as greed and violence. Reading Brown’s two-part poem ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ one is drawn into that world of Chaucer’s bleak humour as the three thieves murder each other and the Pardoner watches the bodies disappear “like runoff down the drain”. However, a more pensive tone informs ‘Homo naledi’, the epigraph of which refers to a new species of hominid that was unearthed in South Africa in 2013 after having been given a ritual burial some two million years before:

“In Gauteng’s caves the dons are asking how
the branches of our past converge; if much
connects these buried bones with the longer
lines that lead out from the trees. They will
in time shed light.”

These are thoughtful, quiet poems and, as befits elegies, they linger in the mind.

Ian Brinton 26th August 2018

One response »

  1. Pingback: Andy Brown reading in Lewes | Worple Press

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