Saying Yes In Russian by Caroline Clark
Agenda Editions 2012
This is a poetry of junctions, places where one road meets another, one language meets another, a place where in the ‘Night Train’
the untouched tracks
the foregone night
It is a world of definitions where meaning takes place, dawningly, as light intrudes on darkness and ‘void’ becomes ‘lightened window’ or ‘differences dawn lightly, / first away, then towards’. Richard Price’s comment on the back cover of this handsome Agenda edition is very much to the point when he says that Caroline Clark’s poetry ‘explores the Russia she knows intimately—city, forest, snow—and always with a music that seems to soothe the fear of gaps she finds, edges beyond the edge.’ This poetry recognises that an object’s individuality is obtained by contrasting it with other objects: we perceive things by contrast. In his essay ‘My Creative Method’ the French phenomenologist, Francis Ponge suggested the importance of these borders in outlining one experience from another in the creation of personal identity:
…la variété des choses est en réalité ce qui me construit. Voice ce que je veux dire: leur variété me construit, me permettrait d’exister dans le silence même.
When Caroline Clark comes to a place ‘where the tower blocks stop / and do not give way to woods / or open field’ she sets out into a new world. Initially there are potholes, ‘things to avoid’, ‘obscenities’; and then comes new language, ‘a tugging / at comprehension’:
They took me to a village wedding,
the name of the place meant apple.
Yábloko, yábloko. Give me a word
I can understand. Say it with a bite.
As the poet tells us ‘these words are not my own’. But it is the new conjunctions, the fresh juxtapositions, which make these words convincingly evocative of a life lived with seriousness. This is a terrific first collection of poems.
Ian Brinton 20th January 2014