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Bonjour Mr Inshaw poetry by Peter Robinson & paintings by David Inshaw (Two Rivers Press)

Bonjour Mr Inshaw poetry by Peter Robinson & paintings by David Inshaw (Two Rivers Press)

Writing about his paintings from the 1970s which had been influenced by the landscape of Wiltshire and the poetry of Thomas Hardy, David Inshaw suggested that his main aim “was to produce a picture that held a moment in time, but unlike a photograph, which only records an event.” Comparing the world of a painting with that of the camera he went on to point out “a painting could give a more universal, deeper meaning to that moment by composing one instant from lots of different unrelated moments.” And so ‘The Badminton Game’, originally given a title from the early Hardy poem ‘She, To Him’,
holds a stillness which is quite remarkable and it interestingly graced a wall in Number 10 in 1997!

This new publication from Two Rivers Press is extremely attractive and the stillness of Inshaw’s focus upon more than the moment is complimented by the way in which Peter Robinson’s poems note the depth of the present’s conversation with the past. In another painting from 1972 which retained its title from one of Hardy’s ‘1912-13’ poems written after the death of his wife, ‘Our days were a joy and our paths through flowers’ (‘After a Journey’), a haunting awareness of how the past and the present can be caught in a stillness of reflection is complimented by Robinson’s poem ‘Haunting Landscapes’:

“But time you stop won’t go away.
Perpetually present, it has to stay
replete with others’ meanings
from gallery walls, gone into the world
of chiaroscuro, image, reputation,
not knowing how or why,”

The precision in the painting holds the attention. A woman in black stands to stare behind her with hands on hips as though to address what is no longer there. The context of the loss is given a permanency by the way that Inshaw has painted the geometrically exact gravestones, some of which lean slightly in the direction of the woman’s gaze, and the carefully tended hedge and grass that occupy the foreground:

“Each blade of grass, brick course and ripple,
whether through water, leafage or sky
dryly individuated stills its still point
into a distanced reminiscence…”

In the Preface to this beautifully designed book Peter Robinson gives an account of his meetings with Inshaw when they were both at Trinity College, Cambridge, the poet working for a PhD on Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts and the latter on a two-year stint as Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts. When his first collection of poems, Overdrawn Account, appeared from the Many Press in November 1980 it included a short prose piece which of course was not reissued in the Shearsman Collected Poems. The piece was dedicated to Inshaw and given the title ‘A Woman A Picture and a Poem’. Opening with ‘The flattened cumulus darker than slate’ it goes on to refer to the ‘deepening presence of…what if she leaves him?’. It is perhaps that deepening presence which pervades this new poem of haunting landscapes and it is worth noting Adam Piette’s comment on the book’s back cover:

“Robinson is the finest poet alive when it comes to the probing of shifts in atmosphere, momentary changes in the weather of the mind, each poem an astonishingly fine-tuned gauge for recording the pressures and processes that generate lived occasions.”

The collection of poems in this new publication reflect Robinson’s thoughts after visiting Inshaw’s studio early last year and those shifts of atmosphere can be seen weaving their paths through the poem ‘After Courbet’, written as a response to Inshaw’s 1977 painting ‘The Orchard’:

“You were working on The Orchard.
We talked about its foreground ladder,
the feet secured, it seemed, nowhere
on that unresponsive canvas
with tension problem, sunken paint
where one girl’s reaching, as for apples,
the other stares, oh distant women—”

The presence of Thomas Hardy is felt in the distant gaze and one is tempted to recall the opening of the second section of that 1866 publication of ‘She, To Him’:

“Perhaps, long hence, when I have passed away,
Some other’s feature, accent, thought like mine,
Will carry you back to what I used to say,
And bring some memory of your love’s decline.”

One might also think of James Joyce’s Mr. Duffy in ‘A Painful Case’ who now gazes out of his window “on the cheerless evening landscape” after learning of the death of a woman to whom he used to be close. Or, perhaps more pertinently, one might want to look back at the deeply moving late tale by Henry James, ‘The Beast in the Jungle’:

“It was in the way the autumn day looked into the high windows as it waned; in the way the red light, breaking at the close from under a low, sombre sky, reached out in a long shaft and played over old wainscots, old tapestry, old gold, old colour.”

Bonjour Mr Inshaw is a beautifully produced book and I urge readers to get hold of a copy immediately.

Ian Brinton 9th March 2020

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