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Astéronymes by Claire Trévien (Penned in the Margins)

Astéronymes by Claire Trévien (Penned in the Margins)

In July 1979 Charles Tomlinson composed ‘The Flood’ recording the night which first took away ‘My trust in stone’. The waters which invaded the Tomlinson’s home at Ozleworth filled in the spaces as opposed to delineating them and the poet vainly erected structures to channel the water back to its origins:

‘……………………..I dragged
Sacks, full of a mush of soil
Dug in the rain, and bagged each threshold.’

However, for some types of flood these measures are ineffectual and the poet who had tried on D.H. Lawrence’s hat when he was staying at Kiowa Ranch in New Mexico might have recalled a moment from one of that earlier writer’s essays:

‘The individual is like a deep pool, or tarn, in the mountains, fed from beneath by unseen springs, and having no obvious inlet or outlet.’
(‘Love was once a little boy’)

What Tomlinson discovered as his trust in stone was questioned was that there appeared to him a ‘vertigo of sunbeams’ reflected off the water onto the ceiling next morning. No surface was safe from swaying and that seeming permanence of the immovable appeared as ‘malleable as clay’.
The intriguing and magical world of Claire Trévien’s poems has a playfulness about it as the stone circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany appear in company with the language of the internet. It leaves one with a sense of ‘shaking hands with a ghost’: ‘They say that each time you blink / a stone will hide behind another’. In this shifting reality ‘men cut / and paste, becoming slighter’ and the result is that ‘Their arms are full of peepholes’.
Another figure of twentieth-century poetry whose awareness of the transient nature of a stone’s stability was Ken Smith whose ‘The Stone Poems’ sequence brings before us ‘stone on the move’:

‘Some arrive strangely by night
or happen as comets do. In New England
frost forces them out….

And some lie continually
in the field’s road
finding their ways back
into bleak malevolent creatures
wanting to sit in open fields.’

In Trévien’s world ‘Some places rehearse the same / landscape over and over’ and ‘Stromatolites / timehop to the Precambrian’. These stone beds suggest permanence but the poet scrolls ‘through the same living skin’ to ‘find your comments ossified’. I am left wondering about the tone of this last word: is there a questioning offered to Richard Fortey, author of Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of the Animals and Plants that Life has Left Behind, which might suggest that the book itself is by no means as permanent as its detailed title might lead one to imagine? As Trévien suggests ‘Tracks are left for the next / caretaker’: those marks may be fossil tracks but ‘We used to think / the earth was as old as a cooling-off period’ and now ‘I’ve changed my mind’. The delicate humour behind these shifting perspectives is playfully endorsed by a technique which the poet refers to in her ‘Notes’ at the end of the volume:

‘Several of the poems have been created using a technique I’ve not found a name for, which involves taking a word, slicing it in two and placing it on either end of the line.’

In ‘Expiry Date’, the poem dedicated to Richard Fortey, the first line reveals itself as opening with ‘Some’ and closing with ‘same’; the seeming permanence of selection and repetition is emphasised for us with the opening two letters and the two which close the line. The eighth line is more mischievous as the opening two letters give us ‘ha’ (‘have….’) and the closing two are ‘ts’ (‘…lists’).
The six poems which make up the ‘Arran Sequence’ weave a witty dance with these ideas of form:

‘Start on the first page, the scone-
coloured path to the croft’s collapsed slates.’

The reminder of ‘St…one’ is softly juxtaposed with the steady workings of time and those collapsed slates prefigure an image of ‘fern tentacles’ which

‘steer through bricks, a chimney of nettles gone
dry…’

As the boundaries of Time move around…the ‘Track Changes’ and cars which park ‘on the hardboiled / tarmac’ do not know ‘how quickly it’ll give out’ to leave us ‘footnoted history and an unwritten dance’.
Basil Bunting’s elegiac firmness of statement from the first section of ‘Briggflatts’ is seen as soluble. When he wrote that ‘Pens are too light. / Take a chisel to write’ he was asserting a permanence which is cast now into a different perspective. Tomlinson found stone too unyielding for a poet taking stock of himself and within his Gloucestershire Noah’s Ark in 1979 he found a new way of seeing, quiet in tone, waiting patiently ‘upon the weather’s mercies’. I think that he would have admired and valued these new poems by Claire Trévien.

Ian Brinton 8th August 2016

Homage to Charles Tomlinson Part Two

Homage to Charles Tomlinson Part Two

In the early 1980s there was a short-lived review of modern poetry, The Present Tense, edited by Michael Abbott. The inside cover included a list of people to be thanked for help and advice and these included Neil Astley for issue 3 and Michael Schmidt for issue 4. Issue 2 contained poetry by Charles Tomlinson (‘A Defence of Poesie’) and issue 4 published his ‘Sonnet (after Mallarmé)’. Other poets who appeared in the four issues of this little Bristol-based magazine included C.H. Sisson, Anthony Rudolf, John Greening, Glen Cavaliero, Michael Schmidt and Martin Booth. In issue 3, Autumn 1982, I reviewed Tomlinson’s recently published collection The Flood and the following remarks are taken from that review. Whilst I may blush at some naïveties presented over thirty years ago I think that I still hold to the substance of what I wrote!

After referring to ‘Winter Encounters’, the poem featured in my first ‘blog’, I went on to look at Tomlinson’s questioning of the permanence of stone as his house in Ozleworth became flooded after constant heavy rain and the brook overflowing:

‘The close connection between the landscape and the people dwelling in it is emphasised by the civilised term ‘neighbourhood’ in ‘Winter Encounters’. In that poem there is a firm sense that the bodying-forth of the connections perceived within a landscape is linked to the constant values inherent within individual lives. However, in this latest collection I am impelled to recognise a new tone, a questioning sense that perhaps these objects seen are dissolving, no longer to be relied upon as constants. In ‘The Gate’ the poet’s eye is ‘teased; by a gate being placed on the edge of an unfenced field and the poet’s new eye melts a wall to nothing: a place ‘unspaced’ is, perhaps, in lacking its structure, non-existent. There is here a new way of seeing as the rigid becomes fluid and what is seen becomes almost dream-like:

‘…The mocked mind,
Busy with surroundings it can neither bound nor unbind,
Cedes to the eye the pleasure of passing
Where, between the gate’s five bars,
Perpetual seawaves play of innumerable grasses.’

Similarly the grass which appears ‘like scattered megaliths’ in ‘Hay’ dissolves into an atmosphere of scents:

‘A hedge of hay-bales to confuse the track
Of time, and out of which the smoking dews
Draw odours solid as the huge deception.’

The title poem appears near the end of the collection and the poet who wrote about ‘Stone Walls at Chew Magna’ opens now with

‘It was the night of the flood first took away
My trust in stone.’

The liquid element fills in spaces as opposed to delineating them and the poet vainly attempts to erect structures that will channel the water back to its origin as he ‘dragged / Sacks, full of a mush of soil / Dug in the rain, and bagged each threshold.’ However, naturally enough for this type of flood these measures are ineffectual and I recall D.H. Lawrence’s comment in ‘Love was once a little boy’:

‘The individual is like a deep pool, or tarn, in the mountains, fed from beneath by unseen springs, and having no obvious inlet or outlet.’

The flood in Tomlinson’s poem has ‘…no end to its sources and resources / To grow and to go wherever it would / Taking one with it. The welling up from the springs of imagination is not to be balked by sacks which are themselves filled with soil dug in the rain: here will be

‘…a swealing away
Past shape and self’.

When faced with the overwhelming scepticism concerning those meticulous details upon which the ordered mind has relied for so long then what has been said by others is something to be preserved. Carrying objects to the floor above the poet puts a stair ‘Between the world of books and water.’ In a confrontation between imaginative inspiration and the landmarks which give it shape ‘Water had tried stone and found it wanting’.
However, as with the grass inside the fenceless field the mind discovers new areas of contemplation: a reconciliation. The ‘vertigo of sunbeams’ reflected off the water onto the ceiling are, next morning, something to be praised. Perhaps stone was too unyielding for a poet taking stock of himself. Now no surface is safe from swaying and stone appears as ‘malleable as clay’. Within this Noah’s Ark there is a new morning and a new way of seeing, waiting patiently ‘upon the weather’s mercies.’

I apologise in advance for the incorrect left margin in some of the quotations: technical hitch!

Ian Brinton August 26th 2015

The Point of Waking by Cora Greenhill (Oversteps Books)

The Point of Waking by Cora Greenhill (Oversteps Books)

Cora Greenhill’s The Point of Waking has more than a whiff of D.H. Lawrence and that is no bad thing. She draws upon female saints, goddesses, mythology, circle dances and Christian worship as part of the backdrop to her book. Cretan agriculture has been in decline for some decades now and she registers the changes. A profusion of herbs and flowers, sheep stuck at a well bottom, women toiling in the garden, displaced people and creatures, populate the book’s foreground and give it a wide-eyed focus on contemporary Crete.

Greenhill’s poems explore the wild places and natural world of Crete in a deliciously sensual and lived way. Her suggestive vocabulary and cultural accretions energise moments of being and life’s cycles to produce a pungent and elemental poetry.

The slub and slap of the waves were only
a restless ally to my toss and turn
that clammy night, and dawn had a dull veneer.
Stubbornly aching back and blear
from broken sleep, still I stumbled to the water,
as I had resolved, to swim. On surfacing
I catch a flash, a splinter of sea, a glint
like glass in air. Then, alchemically distilling
his perky form from black pumice, bright fisher king
surveys his day – with me alighting in it.

Her poems are wonderfully grounded in the physical, the working and dancing body. She reveals a pointed picture of modern Crete with its multifarious and changing tourism, migrants and refugees from Africa, Serbia, Pakistan, and is alert to both ritual and the stories of labouring men and women as they harvest olives, herbs and other crops. A poem rich in detail about a Pakistani illegal, who walked through Iran to Greece and hides in the mountains ends: ‘The thyme is on fire, seething / with bees’.

The raw and cooked are nudged along through nuanced and succulent language. The poems probe, elevate and mark boundaries.

The yellows: rabbit brush, cliff rose and snakeweed.
Browns were onions, oak bark and tea.
Deep red was juniper, but most precious of all
was a pink from a shrub called purple bee.

These grains were so few, they were kept in a skull
of a grasshopper the wind had spun in. And we’d ask
and ask, what were rabbits, what were bees,
what was a snake, and what the colour of grass?

I am proud to have published several of these sensual and deeply felt poems. They are quirky and live on in the memory.

David Caddy 13th August 2014

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