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Tag Archives: Andrew Marvell

Symbiont: 50 Sonnets by Dominic Hand (Veer Books)

Symbiont: 50 Sonnets by Dominic Hand (Veer Books)

The emphasis in the environmental sciences nowadays is less on Darwinian competitiveness than on how organisms interact synergically in complex systems. Meantime old concepts of nature have steadily been eroded, both by posthumanism and the recognition of the Anthropocene. Changes have consequently been due in nature writing, which can often still be structured around the human, personal and agonistic. Since language itself is structured that way – subjects and accusatives, persons and possessives – it’s no easy project, but one which innovative poetries – more willing than the mainstream to radically disrupt conventions – have so far had most success in undertaking.

Dominic Hand’s ecopoetics is particularly inventive and visually dramatic. His sonnets’ full justification, small font, lower case and lack of punctuation mean they appear as striated squares, like something blockily manufactured. The same features make them a dizzying and dense read: each poem a single sentence whose clausal links are participles, prepositions or relative pronouns rather than conjunctions. The formalism evokes the connectedness of each poem’s ecosystem, while I guess the phrasal stacking enacts the complexity of entanglement and permeability within it:

tumbling like motes in an eye’s cold prism
the multi-dimensional non-motile drifts
of diatoms jinking through benthic plasm
constellate fragments of starlight in rifts
as subdued as the night sky’s deep and atlantean
gravities corralling dust clouds to maps
of compassless pyrenoids sequestering carbon
in scattershot nebulas of jet-propelled salps
where larvae of herrings and urchins revolve
in orbit around the ghost nets and nurdles
disjected from dead zones to gloam or dissolve
like space-junk a blank cyclorama encircles
with mass-shifting clusters of radiolarians
secreting  dark  silicas  crushed  down  to  aeons

The poems share a focused present tense and a vocabulary rich in scientific Graecisms, among diverse rhythms and novel part-rhymes (‘lily pad […] helipad’ was among my favourites). Their global metaphor is symbiosis: trees and fungi, oxpeckers and impalas, cleaner fish and eels, with the cognizance that humans are most often a parasitic part of the arrangements. Among much wordplay, the language of finance often infiltrates, a reminder that Donna Haraway and others prefer the term Capitalocene to Anthropocene. Allusions to Marvell, Hopkins, Dickinson and so on ‘versify’, I suppose, the ecological process of succession. Great titles like ‘In a Landskip’ and ‘To a Hyperobject’ made me smile (albeit bitterly). I also learned lots about botany, animal navigation, plankton (see above), fracking, bacteria, factory farming, plastiglomerates, polymers… Whew.

The main emotion I experienced, besides wonder or horror at what’s depicted, was admiration veering to reverence as to its creation. The posthumanist turn with its vanished narrator does risk, ironically enough, restoring deific qualities to writers as, appropriating the internet’s omniscience, they stride across the specialist lexicons of genetics, geology, water engineering and computer networking with their name on the cover still signposting a distinct locus of origin and control. In whatever case this collection hardly needs me as a commensual symbiont; it and its young author have already won several deserved prizes, and the back-page blurbs are from J.H. Prynne and Peter Larkin. But I’ll say it anyway: it’s just fabulous.

Guy Russell 25th May 2022

The Intaglio Poems by Iain Britton (Hesterglock Press)

The Intaglio Poems by Iain Britton (Hesterglock Press)

None of us can see into another person’s mind and we have to reconcile ourselves to ending at our skin, that elasticated sack within which we live. In Andrew Marvell’s ‘A Dialogue between the Soul and Body’ the cry of anguish which opens the poem yearns for rescue from enslavement and, like Shakespeare’s Ariel, it reflects upon the ‘Magick’ that could confine it pining within the body’s physical limitation. However, it is language itself, like a shark’s fin moving through the distance between us that can form the bridge between self and other, between Now and Then.
It is no mere accident that the first of Iain Britton’s opening sequence, ‘The Vignettes’, should embed itself on the first page, fossil-like looking both forwards and outwards, whilst peering inwards to a stone past:

“but these eyes fossilised in glistening rock
embedded in the bone work of a carver’s
imagination / transfix the visitor / the

foreigner / to the jawline / the coastline
of a hill bridging hollowed-out ravines
hanging by threads of luminous particles /

these eyes light up / yet nothing flickers /
no church or tabernacle sings / constantly
they’re turning coded valedictions inwards”

On the back cover of The Intaglio Poems Peter Riley comments upon how the poet deals with the entanglement of the personal human condition and suggests that “Human problems, frequently a question of reconciling self and other, are read in terms of place, landscape, image, the clutter and scenery of civilisation…”. The “visitor”, like the reader of the poem, is transfixed by the stone eye in a manner a little like that of the wedding-guest held by the Ancient Mariner’s “glittering” one. As readers of these poems we cannot choose but hear. Words set their mark on the page as a “solitary window is splashed with the Pacific” (‘weather-vane’), “salt grains liquefy” and “gannets drop suddenly into the surf”. The ten opening vignettes, ornamental borders of trailing tendrils, are followed by eight meditations and then nine poems on the elements earth, fire and water before we arrive at an inner portal, the nine engraved pieces which illustrate the book’s title. There is a painterly aspect to this writing and a clear sense of the picture within the confines or window-frames of the page. As such it takes me back to an earlier piece by Britton which he published in Zone 2 (edited from University of Kent by Kat Peddie and Eleanor Perry). The fourth ‘equation’ in a sequence of six offered the reader a house with a girl, a room with a view:

“she shuts the door

of the house i built

stands at the table

at a vase of flowers on the table

she goes to the window

touches a fallen petal”

The house built of words “locks her in” and the interior takes on the existence of another world as the flowers (“orbitally hung”) “float / and colour-scape the room”. Now, held within the engravings of these new ‘Intaglio Poems’

“visions pack in quickly-taken breaths”

And “this teacher knows every brick / in his house”; he “writes messages / to himself” to alchemically transform place and conjure up “multiple / topographies” all of which spell out his name.
The Intaglio Poems concludes with nine short prose ‘narratives’; an eerie surrealism haunts these pieces and I find the world of the Belgian artist Paul Delvaux shimmering before my eyes and “love’s pictured pedestal” found in a ghost story. The poet admits to the accusation of “writing my name in water” and as I look back at the poems which blink their eyes in both directions, to the past and to the future, I cannot help but also recall Charles Tomlinson’s geometry of water in ‘Swimming Chenango Lake’:

“For to swim is also to take hold
On water’s meaning, to move in its embrace
And to be, between grasp and grasping, free.”

The Intaglio Poems by Iain Britton is an intriguing volume concerned with the ephemeral nature of things, as Nikolai Duffy writes. It is “carved out of a language aware of its own fragility” and images “cycle and recycle like tidal echoes”.

Ian Brinton, 7th October 2017

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