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The Intaglio Poems by Iain Britton (Hesterglock Press)

The Intaglio Poems by Iain Britton (Hesterglock Press)

None of us can see into another person’s mind and we have to reconcile ourselves to ending at our skin, that elasticated sack within which we live. In Andrew Marvell’s ‘A Dialogue between the Soul and Body’ the cry of anguish which opens the poem yearns for rescue from enslavement and, like Shakespeare’s Ariel, it reflects upon the ‘Magick’ that could confine it pining within the body’s physical limitation. However, it is language itself, like a shark’s fin moving through the distance between us that can form the bridge between self and other, between Now and Then.
It is no mere accident that the first of Iain Britton’s opening sequence, ‘The Vignettes’, should embed itself on the first page, fossil-like looking both forwards and outwards, whilst peering inwards to a stone past:

“but these eyes fossilised in glistening rock
embedded in the bone work of a carver’s
imagination / transfix the visitor / the

foreigner / to the jawline / the coastline
of a hill bridging hollowed-out ravines
hanging by threads of luminous particles /

these eyes light up / yet nothing flickers /
no church or tabernacle sings / constantly
they’re turning coded valedictions inwards”

On the back cover of The Intaglio Poems Peter Riley comments upon how the poet deals with the entanglement of the personal human condition and suggests that “Human problems, frequently a question of reconciling self and other, are read in terms of place, landscape, image, the clutter and scenery of civilisation…”. The “visitor”, like the reader of the poem, is transfixed by the stone eye in a manner a little like that of the wedding-guest held by the Ancient Mariner’s “glittering” one. As readers of these poems we cannot choose but hear. Words set their mark on the page as a “solitary window is splashed with the Pacific” (‘weather-vane’), “salt grains liquefy” and “gannets drop suddenly into the surf”. The ten opening vignettes, ornamental borders of trailing tendrils, are followed by eight meditations and then nine poems on the elements earth, fire and water before we arrive at an inner portal, the nine engraved pieces which illustrate the book’s title. There is a painterly aspect to this writing and a clear sense of the picture within the confines or window-frames of the page. As such it takes me back to an earlier piece by Britton which he published in Zone 2 (edited from University of Kent by Kat Peddie and Eleanor Perry). The fourth ‘equation’ in a sequence of six offered the reader a house with a girl, a room with a view:

“she shuts the door

of the house i built

stands at the table

at a vase of flowers on the table

she goes to the window

touches a fallen petal”

The house built of words “locks her in” and the interior takes on the existence of another world as the flowers (“orbitally hung”) “float / and colour-scape the room”. Now, held within the engravings of these new ‘Intaglio Poems’

“visions pack in quickly-taken breaths”

And “this teacher knows every brick / in his house”; he “writes messages / to himself” to alchemically transform place and conjure up “multiple / topographies” all of which spell out his name.
The Intaglio Poems concludes with nine short prose ‘narratives’; an eerie surrealism haunts these pieces and I find the world of the Belgian artist Paul Delvaux shimmering before my eyes and “love’s pictured pedestal” found in a ghost story. The poet admits to the accusation of “writing my name in water” and as I look back at the poems which blink their eyes in both directions, to the past and to the future, I cannot help but also recall Charles Tomlinson’s geometry of water in ‘Swimming Chenango Lake’:

“For to swim is also to take hold
On water’s meaning, to move in its embrace
And to be, between grasp and grasping, free.”

The Intaglio Poems by Iain Britton is an intriguing volume concerned with the ephemeral nature of things, as Nikolai Duffy writes. It is “carved out of a language aware of its own fragility” and images “cycle and recycle like tidal echoes”.

Ian Brinton, 7th October 2017

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