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Seven Leaf Sermons by Peter Larkin artwork by Rupert Loydell (Guillemot Press)

Seven Leaf Sermons by Peter Larkin artwork by Rupert Loydell (Guillemot Press)

In Part I of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality, the title of which suggests the connection between being and movement, the philosopher asserts that the number one ‘stands for the singularity of an entity’ and that the term ‘many’ presupposes the term ‘one’. A quarter of a century later Charles Olson was to write to Robert Creeley that the term ‘One makes Many’ had been overheard by him as being uttered by Cornelia Williams, the cook in Black Mountain College and the phrase was then adopted by Olson as an epigraph for The Maximus Poems. On similar lines Olson wrote an autobiographical note in November 1952 stating

‘that there is no such thing as duality either of the body and the soul or of the world and I, that the fact of the human universe is the discharge of the many (the multiple) by the one…’

In the opening stanza of the sixth of Peter Larkin’s intensely focused poems we can recognise this inseparable connection between the one and the many as ‘a bough is poised between heaven / and earth, full in leaf points to its latent interceding.’ The moving outwards of ‘points’ leads on to the later thought in the same poem:

‘,,.The tree would have no firmament without its
cloud of leaves’

In its Hebraic origins the word ‘firmament’ may well suggest ‘expanse’ as in the treading out of metals, the beating out, the making firm of a primal source. All journeys have sources and the ‘many’ is an outspreading of the ‘one’; in terms of travel, however, there is always loss as well as gain and the opening poem contemplates this inevitable relationship:

‘…The tree was soon parted
from its leaves, but not its wintering seed: what’s this
casts off any distress of tree, simply wrinkles in leaf?’

Like leaves from a tree words have an outward yearning towards different meaning and ‘leaves’ contains an echo of parting just as the word ‘wrinkles’ hints at the Thomas Nashe lines from ‘Summer’s Last Will and Testament’:

‘Beauty is but a flower,
Which wrinkles will devour,
Brightness falls from the air’

In his ‘Journal’ dated 17th October 1873 Gerard Manley Hopkins noted the unending connection between tree and leaf, the one and the many, as the end of the month brought severe frosts:

‘Wonderful downpour of leaf: when the morning sun began to melt the frost they fell at one touch and in a few minutes a whole tree was flung of them; they lay masking and papering the ground at the foot. Then the tree seems to be looking down on its cast self as blue sky on snow after a long fall, its losing, its doing.’

Contemplating movement which is loss Peter Larkin uses language in his Seven Leaf Sermons which breathes an echo of the early seventeenth century:

‘Lacking leaf a tree is not unhoused, but homeless enough
a leaf at last turns its page. It became apron
only to the underclothing of indigent tree, litter for free.
Saw-leaves, no longer interior scapes of trunk passed across
branch-scape, but sole sly ratchet in gear above tree’

The homelessness of ‘unhoused’ brings before us the King Lear whose address to the Fool signals the opening of a moment of meditative prayer the rhetoric of which would be at home in an early dissenting sermon. He exclaims ‘You houseless poverty’ before falling to his knees and addressing the world peopled with ‘houseless heads’ and ‘unfed sides’.
Peter Larkin’s ‘Sermon 3’ presents us with a leaf that ‘breathes in rain but drinks from the root’ and the etymology of words, the foundation of language, is the precursor of expression: the one leading to the many. ‘The sound of rain is its light rattle’ itself offers a continuation from Larkin’s publication from last year, Trees Before Abstinent Ground (Shearsman Books, 2019) in which

‘an out-where of
woods feathered at
joint, a fledgling
withinness with
which they flaunt

articulatio

‘Rooted from edge’ (‘exposure (A Tree) presents’, 2011 and published by Shearsman Books in 2014 under the title Give Forest Its Next Portent) had already suggested an indissoluble link between the moment of setting out and the landscape arrived at within the act of journeying and ‘Sermon 3’ offers us

‘The rain-swirl is what leaves didn’t filter, they fold
around one main curl further down, how root-scope gets
to think (sank) the shape of its drink trunk-spiralled.’

This is a beautifully produced book from Guillemot Press and the illustrations provided by Rupert Loydell add to the contemplative sense of presentation matching content; Olson would have been rather pleased with that too!

Ian Brinton, 19th August 2020

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