RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Emily Dickinson

The M Pages by Colette Bryce (Picador Poetry)

The M Pages by Colette Bryce (Picador Poetry)

These poems appear almost formal, but absolutely sing in massed choir from the pages of this collection in which Colette Bryce is absorbed in witness to the passing of life – death and changes arrived by its finality. She feels, looks, listens and imagines.

It is through the imagination evoked in setting out her words that carries these poems, the lines work in unison, sometimes soothing, ‘the polished lozenge of a hearse’; sometimes, bluntly factual, ‘Death. Nobody wants / our accumulated stuff’; sometimes gracefully handling polite insincerity, ‘Smokers in the parking lot, / ashes to ashes /        ‘yes we must / in happier…’Some awkward hugs’. Colette Bryce is an articulate and trustworthy observer.                        

‘Death of an Actress’ is a poem of neatly stitched euphemisms celebrating vernacular’s informal rendering of demise:

                        Has gasped her last, pegged out, gone west.

                        Mislaid the future like a set of specs

                        or a loop of keys. Has booted the bucket,

                        dimmed her light to the glownub of a wick

                        and snuffed it, passed on to the kingdom of perpetual

                        night, hooked up with darkness as a bride.

                                                                                                (‘Death of an Actress)

Nimble writing. She makes it sound so right; makes it look so easy. Colette Bryce’s natural aptitude for navigation is all over this book.  She keeps each poem on course.

That capability is also felt in that she, herself, is in constant transit irrespective of the arresting manifestations in the face of fate. Her travels surface in poems such as ‘Cuba, A Short Commute’ and are alluded to elsewhere: a trip by car to the hill fort Grianan of Aileach near Derry, in visits to family and Ireland. From that poem, ‘Car Hire’, deft wording, care and humour capture the poet’s poorly mother being taken for a drive: 

                        as we ease you from the wheelchair, bend

                        your hinges into the hatchback (memory foam

                        on the seat for your sore, score brittle bones),

                        fasten the belt across you with a click.

                        Not forgetting your tank, ‘Jacques Cousteau’:

                                                                                                (‘Car Hire’)

Such an instance can’t help but connect with a reader in the most positive manner.

The quizzical poem ‘My Criterion’ makes clear Colette Bryce’s fondness for the writing of poet Emily Dickinson and without leaden obviousness drops a nod the latter poet’s obsession with mortality and in doing so the whimsical four lines maintain the central theme of the collection whilst amusingly delving in pensiveness:

                        She writes New Englandly.

                        How do I?

                        Derrily? Verily.

                        Irelandly? ‘Northernly’.

                        Emigrantly, evidently.             (‘My Criterion’)

The fourteen-part title poem begins, ‘M has disappeared’ and interestingly the final line of the final poem in the collection, ‘A Last Post’, ends with, ‘at which they always disappear’.

Appearances and disappearances; beginnings and ends; the transitions between those become characteristic.

Part 1 is a collection of measures: ‘final’, ‘OK’, ‘basics to sustain’, ‘happy enough’, ‘more love’ but comes down to the five times, coffin-nailed: ‘final’.

Part 2, arrives in Melville-fashion, every image to but not from, Moby Dick. 

                        The great nothing breached like a whale

                        and submerged again, just to remind us,

                        or rather inform us it is always there,

                        all times, all place,

                        monstrous in the depths.

Its fourth verse:

                        your name will unfix like a limpet from its scar

                        and birl away

                        in ocean’s eddies,

                        a waltzing teacup, and you, dear M,

                        plus all of us, will become unspoken.

Such lyricism. The Scottish word, ‘birl’; the fairground unrealism of ‘a waltzing teacup’ spin the mind.

Part 4, on entering M’s residence, is journalistic in its police-fumbling exactness.

Part 5, flashes back to M’s innocence, duped by sellers and traders.

Part 7 is subtitled, ‘The Whereabouts of M’ and shoots straight from the hip,

                        Don’t let’s talk about the underworld and all that crap.

as Bryce enters the heart of any home, the kitchen, before moving to the limbs of M’s residence.

Part 10 is reminiscent of a scene in ‘Silent Witness’ and followed by Part 11 where M’s isolated body takes the reader to a lonelier and unexpected contemplation.

The M Pages says things directly, imaginatively and deeply.

Ric Hool 27th May 2021

Encroach to Resume by Peter Larkin (Shearsman Books)

Encroach to Resume by Peter Larkin (Shearsman Books)

Peter Larkin has been publishing poems about trees for almost 40 years, yet with each new collection he brings fresh perspectives. This arises in part from his close attention to trees, an attention which he invites us as readers to share. It is also nourished by his interest in scientific research into trees and forests, and recent philosophical debate on the non-human and our relationship to it. 

In his latest volume, Encroach to Resume, ‘Bodies the Trees of’ is a good example of the way science informs the poetry. The poem takes as its principal source The Body Language of Trees: A Handbook for Failure Analysis by Claus Mattheck and Helge Breloer, a book given to Larkin by J H Prynne. The handbook is focused on the hazards that trees can pose: how they break, why they break, and why sometimes they break when we don’t expect them to. The authors identify a series of indicators of stress and potential failure, the ‘body language’ of the title. 

Larkin has written before about the interaction of a tree with its environment and how this shapes the eventual form a tree takes. In ‘Bodies the Trees of’ he explores the idea of a tree being the record of the various vicissitudes it has had to negotiate through its life. Each response a tree makes to stress generates potential lines of fracture. Thus ‘cracks radiate, the root-swerve revolves describes (sub-writes) a blow’ (para 2) and ‘silent signs render screams to seams’ (para 4). ‘Sub-writes’ here evokes ‘underwrite’ (risk insurance), and ‘screams’ suggests both the sound of sheering timber and the cry of someone struck by a falling branch. 

The poem goes on to explore various aspects of potential stresses which might cause failure, and the way in cities we deal with risks through pruning and felling, constraining ‘branches in harness’. It also generalises this image of vulnerability to say something about our own being in the world. In paragraph 7 we read: ‘excessive stalling into shape    trees share horizons of the body across all the unsheltered flesh of the world’. 

A very different poem is ‘Given Trees Their Other Side of Nature’, a text which engages explicitly in metaphysical speculation. The poem is prefaced by three epigraphs, the first from Rilke’s Erlebnis in which the subject of the text wonders if he has been ‘transported to the other side of Nature’. This is followed by the environmental philosopher Bruce V. Foltz asserting that ‘the other side of nature is the side that allows it to be more than…our own production. The other side is the side we sense but do not see…’. The third epigraph is from Emily Dickinson: ‘I could not find a privacy/from Nature’s sentinels –‘.

The sense of there being an otherness in nature, a numinous presence we scarcely apprehend, is a common theme in Larkin’s work. This for him is not a transcendent reality but something we experience phenomenologically, however mysteriously. Thus in the seventh section of the poem Larkin writes: ‘Nature’s other side no less born, sensory only as its gift bestirs     a fragility not quite nearby but companionate burden’. In the central part of section 10 we read:

rootedness scratches

at a dimensionless

deflective abiding

in welts of belonging

the unaccountable,

prongs of the trees

smack at nature’s


It is through the material presence of trees that we have a sense of this otherness. Section 9 includes the line:

No such erasure without a raised other side, what is not a lid     hidden only as leanest against, supportive until obstructive enough for prayer

Larkin has made increasing use of the word ‘prayer’ in his poetry in recent years, though who or what is praying in the poems is often ambiguous. Personal pronouns appear rarely in his work.  Here he speaks of prayer ‘not bridging but a thrown (penetrating) embankment, its own least-beyond-from-which’ (section 1). Ultimately it is prayer, understood as a reaching towards, which retains the initiative in this poem, rather than metaphysical argument.

‘As a Tree Not a Tree’ is another fine poem which anticipates many of the themes in ‘Given Trees’. I enjoyed the subtle ambiguities explored here, the sense of a tree containing what is literally ‘not tree’ while also being more than ‘tree’ in a metaphysical or spiritual sense – that a tree ‘shelters what it is not’. Four other poems on various tree-related themes make up the collection as a whole.

Larkin’s texts are challenging, demanding work from the reader. The ideas he explores are often subtle. But the effort is worth making. The global environmental emergency we confront demands of us a very different way of being in the world. Larkin’ poetry is an invitation to reflect on what that might feel like.  

Simon Collings 13th May 2021

Oli Hazzard’s Within Habit (Test Centre, 2014)

Oli Hazzard’s Within Habit (Test Centre, 2014)


follows up his critically acclaimed Between Two Windows (Carcanet Press, 2012), winner of the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. This new collection in a limited edition of 250 copies comes with an introductory note by John Ashbery and preface quotes from Archaeological Theory: An Introduction, which refers to the density of archaeological sites being so large that a line drawn through the British landscape would clip a number of sites, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘You there – I – here’ poem. Ashbery describes the work as a ‘stunning set of prose puzzles’ that ‘suggests a kit with only a few instructions supplied’ and ‘becomes exciting, necessary and new.’


Ashbery rightly alerts to the reader to the place where meaning may or may not arrive in these exciting poems. On first reading, Within Habit concerns what might be called a discursive cultural mapping of the spaces between lines (drawn, read | disputed) where origins may form or be appropriated. There is a beguiling repetition of figures such as Monmouth, Henry James, Paul Nash, also Latin and Greek, and intriguingly Christopher Newman, a character from The Americans, who prefers copies to originals, and Meliboeus, from Virgil’s Eclogues. Monmouth signifies both person and town with its foundation on a Roman settlement and Norman castle.


The twenty texts are presented in prose format with vertical lines marking divisions and connections between units creating relatively abrupt and startling juxtapositions. The texts consist of two sets of nine lines linked by a ‘hinge’ word or phrase from the end of the ninth line placed on the next line clear of both sets. This word or phrase is thus clearly referenced as between the two sets. The A3 sized book is beautifully designed with the poems positioned centrally on the page in large font, employing blue print with ample white space between them drawing attention to the visual aspects of the contents and obliquely, to representations and inscriptions of originals.


The poems appear to be concerned with divisions and demarcations, as in wood and trees, face and hand, mountain and valley, border and fence, original and copy, and the power around them. Like Emily Dickinson’s poem they are concerned with the construction of those divisions as the place between the lines where the self is located


In the space of a few lines | you may find yourself | in the space of a

few lines | roomy enough to dwell in | some cloudy morning – the

little adjustments | falling makes | in the receptacle | from which

the desire to receive | somatic perfume | of the pressure drops

halfway through | the sentence | make themselves felt as distinctions

from a state | of deep sleep | landscaping. Working as agents

induces an improper feeling of flatness | sex flowers strike | so light

it hardly registers as defeat | the tears or weak areas. To determine

the appropriate pressure | for



to be deterred | partition calls back the candelabra-form espalier



These poems are extraordinary and leave the reader puzzled and amazed.


David Caddy 28th May 2014





%d bloggers like this: