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
returning see themselves
in faint silhouette, woodsmoke
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’:
brightness that child
crying for the bird of
by the clearing
watched as the cold
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
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