Waterloo Press has recently published a reconfiguration of Nicholas Johnson’s astonishingly powerful and important poem, Cleave. What started out as an Arts Council commissioned book in 2002 with the subtitle ‘The Debateable Lands’ (dealing with the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth) has become a collection of poems which sing and resonate with a depth of perspective and a new authority. As I wrote on the blurb for this handsome new edition these poems cut through the world of political expediency with a sure understanding of the pragmatics of destruction.
Meg Bateman’s comments at the beginning of the volume are absolutely pertinent:
‘Cleave is a highly imaginative and experimental poem, a cry from the south west to north east of rural England, which has sustained man since the last ice-age. It has no thesis, no moral argument: rather it is the disorientated response to something completely abhorrent. The culling of farm animals in the infected areas and their buffer zones may have removed the slur of disease from British livestock, but the disease is fatal to neither man nor beast. As much as the skies, the water-ways, the sunsets, and the blood-soaked fields, it is ourselves who are polluted by the process.’
Etruscan Books has also just put out a typically professional piece of craftsmanship with Carlyle Reedy’s collection of poems, Epos. For those of us who recall Peter Barry’s Poetry Wars, British Poetry of the 1970s and the Battle of Earl’s Court (Salt 2006) the close analysis of Reedy’s ‘isle of sheppey’ poem brought into sharp focus the sense of the effect of natural forces on human objects. As Lee Harwood puts it ‘The poems are like spells. There are things one can’t fully understand, can’t explain, but somehow trusts.’
These two books are a must for the New Year.