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Kalimba by Petero Kalulé (Guillemot Press)

Kalimba by Petero Kalulé (Guillemot Press)

A kalimba is an African instrument consisting of a wooden box and fingerlike metal tines which are plucked by thumbs, and an acoustic hole, which can also be used to make a sound, by hovering one’s thumbs over the hole. Watching it being played, I was struck by the handiness of the instrument, held in two hands like a mobile phone, the tines plucked as though the player is sending a text message.
It is easy to see the appeal of this instrument to a poet, particularly a poet deeply interested in music, like Petero Kalulé. The collection’s dedication reads ‘for all my friends: that these notations may vibrate close in y/our hands’. The physical book is shaped like a kalimba, and the cover is designed as one. The conceit is that, as we read Kalulé’s poetry, aloud or in our heads, we are playing an instrument. Whether Kalulé wants us to play his music or use his poems like notes with which to make our own music, is unclear. The difference is that either the poetry book is a music book, with pieces with notes to be read and obeyed, or it is like the instrument itself, simply to be played with.

As the instrument conceit suggests, Kalulé’s principal focus in his poems is sound. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Kalulé’s poems indulge in the rich sounds that words strung together make, alongside directions of dashed and parentheses which are not unlike musical notations. Words are split and divided, by line breaks or using letters which, when spoken, sound like a syllable. This excerpt is from ‘Sahara’:

sun, ocean, islets cowries, manatee, manity, scope, memory, glee
vision s, minarets, spires
language, b
-orders, planets, poems, music, spells, serpents, shells, piss,
Blood
[….]
It un does tXture

The typography, like the verses, is a law unto its own. One word becomes another; Kalulé draws out surprising links between words, either semantically related or seemingly unrelated, purely by the way they sound. Words are manipulated in this way such that the poems, more like music than poetry, are sequences of sound with a tone and a mood, but no other direction.

In a certain mood a reader can allow the sounds and words to roll over their tongue and mind in a pleasing way, meaning almost whatever one wants it to mean.

Kalulé’s aesthetic, his structure-breaking structure, feels rigid by virtue of its forcefulness. A word can mean a myriad of things, but strangely, Kalulé’s attempts to push and pull words, to familiarize and then defamiliarize, rather seems to be an attempt to imprison or pin down words. For example, the word ‘borders’ is almost forced into meaning borders as in the border of a country, by the very fact it is forcibly divided, and the word ‘order’ within the word, is attenuated. Almost only, because it is of course impossible to force words to do anything. It is like Kalulé wants his words to have more than one meaning, but no more than the three he is thinking of. His unconventional, aesthetic approach to the practice of poeticizing, rather than being liberating, felt like a harness. Words in chains, and their chains were these erratic, driven, structures. This quotation from Cecil Taylor is included as foreword to the collection: “Part of what this music is about is not to be delineated exactly. It’s about magic, & capturing spirits.” There is tension here, in the freedom of escape from restrictive ‘delineating’, and the desire for ‘capturing’. Experimental structures and manipulation of lyric traditions, by calling attention to the way they can be formed, seem to do exactly this: delineate. These structures, to me, felt less playful than paranoid.

I enjoyed the rush of sound which Kalulé releases into the world, delicious and intriguing, signs and significations that rear their heads like fish between the waves before vanishing or transfiguring. Nevertheless, after reading these poems, I was left with the resounding sound of the futility and frustration of a poet, who finds his words less like an instrument to be played and more like a horse to be reined in. Whether by accident or on purpose, Kalulé’s musical conceit impressed on me the realisation that words are not like musical notes. They are neither consistent in their sound, nor played and silenced by the touch, or untouch, of a thumb.

Yvette Dell 3rd April 2020

Gathering Grounds 2011-2019 by Harriet Tarlo images by Judith Tucker (Shearsman Books)

Gathering Grounds 2011-2019 by Harriet Tarlo images by Judith Tucker (Shearsman Books)

In her introduction to The Ground Aslant, An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry (Shearsman Books, 2011), Harriet Tarlo had suggested that the word “landscape” was itself a compound of both the land and its scape, its shaping. The importance of this note was in its acknowledgement of the interventionist human engagement with land. The title of her new collection of poems, accompanied by the powerful evocations of place contained within the drawings of Judith Tucker, contains a similar acknowledgement. “Grounds” are themselves the foundations upon which something is built up, suggesting an underlying principle of growth, and it is entirely appropriate that the opening section of some fifty pages (poems written between 2011 and 2014) should be titled ‘Tributaries’, those streams of water which lead into larger rivers. In his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality Charles Olson made a note alongside the philosopher’s statement that “the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many” registering his awareness of what the cook at Black Mountain College, Cornelia Williams, had meant in 1953 when she said “All my life I’ve heard / one makes many”. The statement became the epigraph for The Maximus Poems and Olson called it “the dominating paradox on which Max complete ought to stand.”
Tarlo’s opening poem is dedicated to Judith Tucker and it stands in stark black lines on the white page:

“in place, drawing
where things
start, where to
cut landscape off
seam or folded
. lead
turning at an
imagined centre, it
begins with a
line in space

Almost in echo of Zoe Skoulding’s poem ‘In the forest where they fell’ where “Time spirals out of seed” and “Specific histories / don’t fade but circle in a constant outward movement”, the opening poem to ‘Tributaries’ begins with “place…begins with a / line in space.” As Harriet Tarlo had also pointed out in her introduction to that other handsome volume from Shearsman Books, that anthology of radical landscape poetry:

“These diverse poems speak to each other across the space, allowing readers to enter the poem and speculate over their relationship to each other.”

The tributaries that lead to the larger more recognisable movements of water contain a world of submerged etymologies and the first record of this image is in Cymbeline in 1611 where the “poor tributary rivers” provide “sweet fish”. Printed lines on a white page, the lines of drawing “where things / start”, confront us with a language in which the relationship between ourselves and the world around us can come alive, human engagement. As Hopkins’s stones ring “in roundy wells” Tarlo’s opening poem turns “at an / imagined centre” and one might think about Thomas Nagel’s conception of reality as “a set of concentric spheres, progressively revealed as we detach gradually from the contingencies of self.” Or one might also bring to mind Wordsworth’s Fenwick note to his early poem ‘An Evening Walk’ in which the seventy-three year old poet recalled that moment from his youth when he had become aware of “the infinite variety of natural appearances.”
Judith Tucker’s drawing that sits on its own page alongside that first poem of ‘Tributaries’ may of course begin “with a / line in space” but it is to the eye a complex and beautifully dense account of a wood beside a stream and it suggests that whereas the act of expression may well have to commence with a line it soon interweaves into a complexity of thought. As if in decided rejection of that Whitehead/Olson dictat Harriet Tarlo goes on to write that “there isn’t a way / there isn’t a way to go / off-path, counter-path”. In ‘March: Wessenden Head Moor to Reap Hill Clough’ she recognises that “working up to where / they spring, unseen / their several sources / not anything comes from / one.”

This is a remarkable book of poems and drawings and by following those tributary streams one will arrive at Tetney Lock Bridge, the first of the ‘Past Winter’s Sonnets’ sequence from 2017-2018:

“….turnstone flies over flood
gates, under pipe siphoning sweet oil from sea line,
then out & out all gathered rivers, becks & drains
under winter-flocking geese, swirling starlings
through whimbrel marshes into wide tide mouth.”

Ian Brinton 30th March 2020

Cargo of Limbs by Martyn Crucefix Introduction by Choman Hardi & photographed by Amel Alzakout (Hercules Editions)

Cargo of Limbs by Martyn Crucefix  Introduction by Choman Hardi & photographed by Amel Alzakout (Hercules Editions)

As a continuation of my blog about the translations of Peter Huchel’s poetry I want now to draw attention to a very different piece of translation work by Martyn Crucefix as he transports lines from Book VI of Virgil’s Aeneid in order to draw together associations between the Trojan hero’s journey to the land of the Dead and the plight of refugees seeking escape from war-torn countries such as Syria.
In the Afterword Crucefix tells of listening on his headphones to Ian McKellen’s reading from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Book VI and says

‘The timing is crucial. I’m listening to these powerful words in March 2016 and, rather than the banks of the Acheron and the spirits of the dead, they conjure up the distant Mediterranean coastline I’m seeing every day on my TV screen: desperate people fleeing their war-torn countries.’

Crucefix then goes on to bring our focus to bear upon the drowned corpse of Alan Kurdi found on a beach near Bodrum, Turkey:

‘In the summer of 2015, this three-year old Syrian boy of Kurdish origins and his family had fled the war engulfing Syria. They hoped to join relatives in the safety of Canada and were part of the historic movement of refugees from the Middle East to Europe at that time. In the early hours of September 2nd, the family crowded onto a small inflatable boat on a Turkish beach. After only a few minutes, the dinghy capsized. Alan, his older brother, Ghalib, and his mother, Rihanna, were all drowned. They joined more than 3,600 other refugees who died in the eastern Mediterranean that year.’

As the train sped across the southern counties and the fields of England ‘swept past’ Crucefix found that ‘Virgil’s poem continued to evoke the journeys of refugees such as the Kurdi family’.

In Book VI of Aeneid Virgil pleads with the Gods to lend him strength so that he can report back what he witnesses and this in turn is what leads Crucefix to use the narrative voice of a witnessing photojournalist in Cargo of Limbs. The narrator tries to bring into perspective a sense of ‘the blue-black seethe / of the Mediterranean / the longed-for the far-off / those sun-lit harbours / beyond risky nights / a body washed to the beach –’ In Martyn Crucefix’s lines Charon, the boatman ferrying the souls of the dead, is seen as a people smuggler

‘standing rich in rags
right hand out-stretched
for help as well as coin
the shadows of a beard
on his chin have not seen
a blunt razor in days’

The words ‘rich in rags’ seem to offer an image of one of the perks traditionally associated with a public executioner: the acquisition of artefacts belonging to those who are about to lose their lives. The refugees clamour to be taken aboard as they ‘plead and proffer / what little they possess’ and ‘grab his hand’ as though to seek support from the concerned ferryman. With a seeming concern for the safety of his cargo this Charon assists his passengers as they enter into the ‘dinghy’s wet mouth / the oil-stinking holds’

‘where shuttered waters
pool and the need to bale

this blue-black water
slapping on all sides
slaps across the way ahead’

In his deeply moving and disturbing account of such a present-day reality Crucefix is aware that he may run a risk of that tension between a focus upon suffering and its exploitation. He tells us of Christopher Büchel’s ‘rusty hull of a fishing boat’ that ‘was installed’ at the Venice Biennale in June 2019:

‘The vessel had foundered off the Italian island of Lampedusa in April 2015 with 700 refugees aboard. Only 28 survived. When the Italian authorities recovered the vessel in 2016 there were 300 bodies trapped inside. Büchel called his work Barca Nostra (Our Boat) and there is little doubting his (and the Biennale’s) good intentions to raise public awareness of the plight of refugees.’

Commenting upon Büchel’s work an article in The Observer suggested that the exhibition diminished, even exploited, the suffering of those who died ‘losing any sense of political denunciation, transforming it into a piece [of art] in which provocation prevails over the goal of sensitising the viewer’s mind.’ As a response to this it might be of some purpose to think carefully of the role of the translator and in his introduction to David Hadbawnik’s Aeneid Books I-VI (Shearsman Books, 2015, reviewed on this blog soon after it came out) Chris Piuma referred to translation as ‘a carrying across, from one language to another, from one culture to another, from one time and place to another.’ Translation is itself a crossing of borders, a transforming of what is there to be registered. Piuma went on to suggest that other cultures use other metaphors to talk about translation, such as ‘turning’ and he introduced Hadbawnik’s work in these terms:

‘There are enough other translations of this poem for the nervous. There is something in the original text that can only be reached by turning it. Turn the syntax of a phrase, turn the layout of a line, turn up or down the register of a speech. Turn some scenes into images…and let the reader turn to the image, to rest and reconsider.’

In Hadbawnik’s version the crowding of those refugees seeking a place on Charon’s boat is seen ‘like foliage swept up in the autumn wind’ or ‘sea birds flocking the land in winter chill.’ In Dryden’s version from 1697 the lines were brought across the border from Latin to English in a way that is still echoed in our more modern versions:

‘Thick as the Leaves in Autumn strow the Woods:
Or Fowls, by Winter forc’d, forsake the Floods,
And wing their hasty flight to happier Lands:
Such, and so thick, the shiv’ring Army stands:
And press for passage with extended hands.’

In the deeply moving and angry tones of Martyn Crucefix’s Cargo of Limbs he can raise a camera to carry us, as readers, across a border into a world of which we should be aware.

Ian Brinton 24th March 2020

These Numbered Days by Peter Huchel translation Martyn Crucefix (Shearsman Books)

These Numbered Days by Peter Huchel translation Martyn Crucefix (Shearsman Books)

In the Editorial to the current issue (71) of Tears in the Fence I have quoted from Michael Heller’s autobiographical account of his early years, Living Root, A Memoir (S.U.N.Y. 2000) and as I look at the elegiac exactness of Peter Huchel’s poems as translated by Martyn Crucefix I am struck again by what I had read from the American poet’s concern for the “ritual forms and objects” associated with his Jewishness:

“As a child in the early nineteen forties, six or seven years old in Miami Beach, even as I sat, sunk deep in the velvet plush seats of Temple Emmanuel on Washington Avenue, feeling the rapture of the ritual occasions, I sensed I was climbing a cliff face, the very physiognomy of otherness, the pathways of memory by which I skirted the fragile edging of the present.”

Remembering his grandfather, a rabbi and teacher, he recalled how “all ceremonies were woven into one continuous chant, a swift, impelled, if muffled, music”. Heller then went on to recall his father’s more secular concern for the seriousness of each word as though he “tried to feel its exactness, like a solid object held in his mouth”.
The reason for my recalling the focus upon that exactness of particular observation was Karen Leeder’s introduction to these fine and moving new translations of Huchel’s poetry in which she refers to the German poet as being committed to the “particularity of things”:

“…he is a poet for whom every word seems to be wrested from and threatened by silence.”

Huchel’s poetry has resonances of “voices, / sent on ahead through sun and wind” and in the title poem ‘These Numbered Days’, a title taken from the Book of Isaiah, he offers us a sense of measured loss:

“and the rattling wake of leaves,
before the river
stows fog among the reeds.”

Peter Huchel is a poet “for whom every word seems to be wrested from and threatened by silence” (Leeder) and among the numbered days of an irretrievable past we are urged to put aside the very particularity which the poet’s lyric skill can magically create:

“So forget the town,
where under hibiscus trees
the mule is saddled in the morning,
its girth tightened, saddlebags full,
women gathering round the kitchen stove,
where wells slumber still in rain.
Forget the path,
stunned by the odour of philadelphus,
the narrow doorway,
where the key lies under a mat.”

Commenting upon the poem ‘The Dipper’, that water-bird which seeks its food below the surface of the pond, Karen Leeder draws our attention to the poet’s reaching down to the roots that connect the natural world with a “darker realm, of earth, death, and memory”. She salutes the translator’s powerful ability to communicate to us the fetching back of something “that will counter the misery of the moment.”
This retrieval of particularity from beneath the surface, the seeking of what is below the water, is haunted throughout these poems by the image of drowning. It is no mere chance that a poem ‘On the Death of V.W.’ (Virginia Woolf) should appear so close to one which is titled ‘Ophelia’ and that the deeply moving elegy addressed to ‘M.V.’ (the poet’s father) should open with a vanishing beneath the waves:

“He vanished—
the room is empty,
the oven cold,
the bottles crane their necks.
He left nothing behind
as if a footprint in sand,
a spill of ice in winter.”

In the introduction we are alerted to some biographical details of Peter Huchel’s life and the way in which he fell victim to the division of Germany after 1945:

“As a consequence, his writing life was pitched against the twin threats of silence and political dogma, notably during the years he spent in the former GDR, or East Germany.”

It might also be pertinent here to recall that other great writer from East Germany, Christa Wolf, whose Model Childhood brings to the surface the alarming thought that “an unused memory gets lost, ceases to exist, dissolves into nothing”. And as if to echo these words we have what Leeder heralds as one of the significant qualities of Martyn Crucefix’s abilities as a translator:

“The exquisite sound echoes in Martyn Crucefix’s translation (dipper, flowing, pick, fish, relinquish) seem to ripple through the poem like the dipper through water. Then there is the sleek reaching down through darkness, undergrowth, roots, water, stones, to the core of things to fetch up something perfect, a word.”

Ian Brinton, 16th March 2020

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

Tears in the Fence 71

Tears in the Fence 71

Tears in the Fence 71 is now available at
https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, multilingual poetry, prose poetry, fiction and flash fiction from James Roome, James Russell, Sarah Cave, Jasmina Bolfek-Radovani, Ric Hool, Martin Stannard, Lee Duggan, Ralph Hawkins, Peter Larkin, John Welch, Vanessa Lampert, Kat Dixon, Norman Jope, Sian Thomas, Richard Foreman, Jessica Saxby, Charles Hadfield, Cherry Smyth, Mark Russell, Rachael Clyne, Peter J. King, Freya Jackson, Gavin Selerie, David Miller, William Gilson, Greg Bright, Colin Sutherill, Lucy Ingrams, David Sahner, Jennifer K. Dick, Reuben Woolley, Rhea Seren Phillips, Mandy Pannett, Georgi Gill and Simon Jenner.

The critical section consists of Ian Brinton’s Editorial, Simon Jenner on Jay Ramsay, Joseph Persad on Helen Moore, Carrie Etter, Harriet Tarlo, Caroline Maldonado on Cherry Smyth, Mandy Pannett on Michael Farrell, Norman Jope on Jeremy Reed, Ian Seed on Jeremy Over, Steve Spence on Maria Stadnicka, Helen Moore on Naomi Foyle, Steve Spence on Emily Critchley, Ian Brinton on David Miller, David Cooke on Peter Riley, Seán Street on Voices and Books in the English Renaissance, Richard Foreman on Gill Horitz, David Caddy on Natalia Ginzburg, Giovanni Pascoli, Keith Jebb on Alan Halsey, Paul Matthews on Sian Thomas, Clark Allison on Marjorie Perloff, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 6, Notes on Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword.

David Caddy 4th March 2020

In Passing by Anna Lewis (Pindrop Press)

In Passing by Anna Lewis (Pindrop Press)

The title of Anna Lewis’s poetry collection In Passing encapsulates Lewis’s fascination with snatched moments. Much of the work in this collection feels like a conjuration, or recollection of moments that are not present, but which are approximated in the instance of the poem. ‘Bluestone’ reads ‘if the birds brought news, they’d talk/of a slow train rolling thirty miles north’. In Coleridgean manner, Lewis’s images hover like disembodied visions, which could or would be, or which break the constraints of space and time, whilst at the same time attending in great detail to the pastoral, to the vivid painting of a picture.
Many of Lewis’s poems attend to the history of places, concerned with the transportation from one time to another via the gateway of a single place. Lewis seems deeply concerned with ‘place’ as a concept. Distinctively, in ‘Late Thaw’ she writes ‘Knowing you as I did, at your home/I always found it hard/to place you in St Petersburg’. Placing, here, is an action, a way of seeing and conceptualising. Lewis wrestles with the injunction that our eyes and bodies are constrained to one time and place, but our experience is not. The constant collision of the other time, the other place, with the present moment, seems to be an attempt to realise the disordered workings of our minds.
The poem ‘Release’ is a particularly strong example of these elusive visions: ‘Another tour chalked up. /Dulled by cloud, the sun unwinds/the last hours of his contract.’ Time and space are assimilated, the sun in the cloud being the present scene, but also an hour hand that ‘winds’ around the sky like a clock face. Instantaneously ‘At this moment, somewhere in Rome, /a girl is washing her face/or shouldering an amphora of wine’. A parallel scene, transporting the reader to Rome, still ‘At this moment’, so that Rome is perceived from the perspective of the touring soldier. Double vision, shifting and unsteady, is achieved but then is undermined by that word ‘or’. A window within a window that is only half-real. The implication that the ‘girl’ is not known, steeps her in further haziness, wherein she flits between mundane tasks, set against the backdrop of the man under the cloudy sun. ‘[W]aiting – although she doesn’t know it yet – to hear his stories of this place:/the hard stars, the air like bared teeth.’ Another window: the place is described indirectly as the description for which she is waiting. Moreover, she is not waiting if she does not know she is waiting. Yet from this bird’s eye perspective, knowing past and future and conflating them both as present, she is ‘waiting’ in the sense that stories await her.
The summoning of ‘stories’ is always distancing, and combined with ‘this place’, the proximal deixis again, affirms that this reality of her waiting is a fantasy. At the same time, ‘this place’ is described from the retrospective narrative of the stories he brings home: ‘air bared like teeth’. Layer upon layer of conditionality, of suspended moments which are neither here nor there, engender this poem quite a complicated play with chronology, affirming that from one angle a girl is waiting for a man, but on another, neither of them exist to each other. Only in this warp of time can this narrative exist. Indeed, as the soldier remembers, he ‘feels the years collapse’. ‘Collapse’ is the right word, itself a spatial metaphor that implies some physical collision, that memory relies on physical space. The past is made present both by this depiction as a whole, and Lewis’s mixed tenses; the final lines ‘Her fingers tick his scalp,/his eyes half close’ is a satisfying image but does not quite scan with the first lines, confusing whether the starting point of this poem was this lover’s embrace or the external perspective of the man under the sky. The word ‘tick’ does not make much sense in English, but is there, we presume, to suggest both ‘tickle’ and the ‘tick’ of a clock. That her fingers tick like a clock against his head, I find somewhat ominous, implying a continuation of the poem’s restlessness, time ticking on, moving around the sky. In this sense, there is no respite, no release.
The collection feels personal and sentimental, and idealistic. Lewis’s writing could be criticised as obscurist, relying too much on her choice of words to do the explaining for her. I am partial to a pleasing turn of phrase, or particularly surprising but apt adjective, and so I enjoyed it. I did not mind the occasional absence of a clear object, and the slight fluffiness of letting a description constitute a meaning. An example would be ‘Home Again’, of which the last words are ‘wholly understood’ but I suspect anyone except the poet would struggle to tell you what the poem was about. Nonetheless, I liked this poem, and generally Lewis’s acknowledgement and evocation of the multi-storey nature of thought. Throughout the collection, I felt that Lewis understands human conception of time as both wonderful and impossible.

Yvette Dell 28th January 2020