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Nerve Cells by Colin Winborn (Knives, Forks, Spoons Press)

Nerve Cells by Colin Winborn (Knives, Forks, Spoons Press)

Some fifteen years ago, in Tears 42, Colin Winborn wrote an intriguing piece comparing lines by the metaphysical poet John Donne with lines from the lyrics of the Kentucky-born singer-songwriter Will Oldham:

‘…Donne reaches for a transcendent fusion of spirit and flesh, rising above the laity, [whilst] Oldham presses back to earth, refusing transcendence’.

The contrast suggested here came back to my mind when I started looking at Nerve Cells, published in 2012 by the wide-ranging and central small poetry press, Knives Forks and Spoons. There is an account of this press of course, written by Juha Virtanen in Tears 59 and I have included an update in the Afterword for the forthcoming Tears 61.

The movement mentioned by Colin Winborn is caught exquisitely in one of the opening poems of this substantial volume. A poem which clearly takes a Brueghel painting of hunters returning in the snow as its starting point opens with the lines

‘The hunters
returning see themselves
in faint silhouette, woodsmoke
curling inwardly’

The playing with light and self-awareness conjures up a moment from Dante’s Paradiso and that ‘quïete in foco vivo’ is taken up again by Winborn in the carefully cadenced piece ‘Edward Thomas’:

‘that dusky
brightness that child
crying for the bird of
the snow’

*

He paused
by the clearing
watched as the cold
rain unquoted

The delicacy of movement taking shadow beneath the watcher in the clearing notes the shift from a feathery lightness to a cold quota of the more tangible. With an echo of Robert Grosseteste writing about how light of its very nature diffuses itself in every direction in such a way that a point of light will produce instantaneously a sphere of any size whatsoever and confirming the Lincoln theologian’s attitude concerning light being the corporeity of form we read here

‘A thought divides
itself, multiplies

the world: Let
there be lights!’

Further comments upon this remarkable collection will appear in my forthcoming book about Dulwich College Poets since 1950. After all, the College was fortunate enough to have Colin Winborn on its staff in the first decade of the present century.

Ian Brinton 16th February 2015

Shannon Tharp’s The Cost Of Walking

Shannon Tharp’s The Cost Of Walking

Colin Winborn suggested that I might enjoy Shannon Tharp’s The Cost Of Walking (Skysill Press, 2011) and he was right!

 

This thoughtful collection, which begins with an H.D. preface, ‘Better the wind, the sea, the salt, / in your eyes, / than this, this, this’, references the possibilities of loss by not confronting the weather, the unseen and unknown. In a series of succinct meditative poems, Tharp gestures towards other approaches and possibilities in any movement between two points. The poems balance short suggestive, philosophical, statements with a concrete imagery gravitated around the weather, felt as both physical and psychological, and travel.

 

Northerly

 

In conditions less

than perfect,

what I make out through

 

rain – happening a-

gain in a

slow diagonal –

 

white hearse, green graveyard,

little else

save for what isn’t.

 

Tharp avoids the pitfalls of pure abstraction by centering the poems within a knowing inner voice, and conversely avoids the downside of subjectivity by looking outwards through distance and separation.  The narrator is aware of division, of the split self, of things falling between, of small movements. The short, often understated, poems expand outwards by means of a few words, whereas the longer poems, such as ‘Chasing Landmarks’, ‘Travelogue’,  ‘Practice’, dedicated to Jack Spicer, and ‘High Rise’ impact cumulatively and succinctly. The book is a feast of composite layering, as in for example, ‘Morning (With William Bronk)’ which starts ‘The world, what we took / for the world, / is breaking. Breaking!’ and ends ‘And we are / equally alive.’ One feels blessed to encounter such acute brevity and depth. This is compelling and strong poetry.

 

Orchard

 

A god-

thought

 

field

where

 

even

rain

 

loses

heart

 

when

shadows’

 

shadows

fall

 

as they

ought.

 

 

The collection coheres and beguiles in equal measurement.

It is a remarkable achievement.

 

 

David Caddy  January 16th 2014

 

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