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The Tree Line: Poems for Trees, Woods & People ed. Michael McKimm (Worple Press)

The Tree Line: Poems for Trees, Woods & People ed. Michael McKimm (Worple Press)

Anthologies, like woods, are places to return to. Their contents linger in the mind as one feels the urge to revisit a particular location. From childhood’s world onwards trees can be very important as places of refuge, tree-houses, and doors of escape: Sherwood Forest is quite ingrained in the British consciousness as a mapped out world of freedom and secrecy. Anthologies are reflections of their editors and they represent a very particular bringing together of poems which repay being looked at again and again: they are books, like memories, to be carried around with one. This new publication containing some sixty poems is no exception and it could not come at a better time: look at the website and buy a copy for Christmas!
One of my favourites is Ern Strang’s ‘Prisoner Writing Home’:

“The view is open only so far
and does not include the sea.

Beside him, the bed
and a letter to his mother

or his father or his brother.
Does it matter?

There is one tree in the cell,
a thin sapling birch

that glints in the light
like church bells glint…”

In Dickens’s novel Little Dorrit we are introduced to the ‘little fiction’ by means of which Mrs Plornish escapes from the confined living premises of London’s Bleeding Heart Yard near Clerkenwell. This infernal region of London is made up of large houses which are divided up into tenements and Mrs Plornish brings up her family inside a cramped living-space from which she escapes by a leap of the imagination:

This poetical heightening of the parlour consisted in the wall being painted to represent the exterior of a thatched cottage; the artist having introduced (in as effective a manner as he found compatible with their highly disproportioned dimensions) the real door and window. The modest sunflower and hollyhock were depicted as flourishing with great luxuriance on this rustic dwelling, while a quantity of dense smoke issuing from the chimney indicated good cheer within, and also, perhaps, that it had not been lately swept. A faithful dog was represented as flying at the legs of the friendly visitor, from the threshold; and a circular pigeon-house, enveloped in a cloud of pigeons, arose from behind the garden-paling.

For the inhabitants of this claustrophobic tenement which exists below the level of the main streets of London this interior decoration is ‘a most wonderful deception’ and ‘it made no difference that Mrs Plornish’s eye was some inches above the level of the gable bed-room in the thatch’. A more recent adaptation of this theme is of course the film ‘Shawshank Redemption’ in which a man escapes from confinement by tunnelling physically through the wall which is decorated with a picture: imagination leaps through stone. In Ern Strang’s poem the tree’s shadow thrown upon a wall possesses the capacity to “grow / through concrete”.
On the opposite page from this poem there is Harriet Fraser’s ‘View from a Manchester flat’ in which a window

“…looked onto other windows
a straight-line scene, bricks, metal, glass,
littered corners, a sleepless hum of cars”

But as if to alleviate the sense of monotonous repetition in this outlook “there was, to make me smile”

“a single slender tree, a birch,
its branches close enough
if I stretched beyond the sill
to touch.”

That past tense of “was” casts its own shadow over the following lines and the poem moves inexorably towards a conclusion which possesses a sense of inevitability:

“One day, I came home and found it gone.
Sawdust and twigs, ignored discards,
and the hacked stump, a raw full stop
of life cut short.”

The “hack and rack” of “growing green” which asserts a sense of human responsibility in Hopkins’s ‘Binsey Poplars’ (‘felled 1879’) is felt here and the loss projects itself into a future in which the poet wonders how she could tell her children’s children “that once there were trees”.
To plant a tree is an act of faith and Peter Carpenter’s poem, ‘Tree in the Garden’, records the planting of an alder which his wife had brought back from a local shop some ten years ago. The tree has “come on / from a stave sheathed in cellophane / to something with a trunk the girth / of a telegraph pole…”. Now, next to the London Road it

“…gives its pick
and mix shadows, like Pisarro in Norwood.”

A palimpsest nature of the past glimpses at the viewer of Pisarro’s early gouache sketch of ‘The Avenue, Sydenham’, 1871. That sketch was made as an early study for the oil painting which hangs in the National Gallery and it reveals a female figure whose “pentimenti could be seen / still on the gravel, advancing towards me, / as a darker stain” (Peter Robinson, ‘Lawrie Park Avenue’ published by Shearsman Books in The Returning Sky, 2012) Robinson’s poem makes us aware of a stillness residing in a frame as an erased past shadows forth into the stillness of the poem’s present before concluding:

But lacking such things to do with the past,
like this figure he had painted out
who fills the air with an indelible stain,
there’d be no possibilities.

They thicken into leaf, his flanking trees.

Look, now, it’s as plain as plain.

Peter Robinson’s contribution to this new Worple anthology takes its title from Heidegger’s late work Die Holzwege (Off the Beaten Track) and it concludes with the line

“and how the tree survives on trust!”

This echoes perhaps a line from Heidegger’s essay ‘Why Poets?’ from off that beaten track:

“Mortals keep closer to absence (if we think of their essence) because they are concerned by presence, the name of being since antiquity.”

Ian Brinton, 13th December 2017, St Lucy’s Day.

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Between So Many Words (Red Squirrel Press) Hut (Woodenhead Pamphlets) by Ric Hool

Between So Many Words (Red Squirrel Press) Hut (Woodenhead Pamphlets) by Ric Hool

The seven pages of text in Ric Hool’s little pamphlet, Hut, open with three assertive lines:

‘Hut is mind
by which man lives
within & outside himself.’

With his hallmark concern for the etymological sources of language J.H. Prynne wrote about the derivation of that little word ‘hut’ and, in his essay ‘Huts’, tells us that its use was first recorded in the seventeenth century, ‘probably from French hutte which is only a little earlier, cognate with Middle High German hütte, Old High German hutta, huttea, perhaps from Old Teutonic hudja with connection from roots meaning to hide, protect, conceal.’ In this 2008 essay, originally published in Textual Practice, Prynne looks closely at ‘Ode to Evening’, the 1746 poem by William Collins before moving from there to focus on the word ‘hovel’ in Shakespeare’s King Lear. He concludes with some thoughts about the meeting that took place in July 1967 between Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger in the latter’s writing hut near Todtnauberg.

Ric Hool’s contrast between ‘within & outside himself’ becomes in that poem’s second stanza (and I use that word advisedly thinking of its own derivation from the Italian for a room) ‘A place of shelter / & invention & / close to the wildwood’. The contrasts between shelter and danger which are contained within the purposes of building a hut are suggested in visual terms in Prynne’s essay when he refers to the title-page of the first edition of Collins’s Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects:

‘The title-page…was adorned with a quite distinctive engraved device, even if not original in this use: within an oval chaplet of leaves and flowers, of which part is laurel and part fruits of the woods and fields, and all surmounted by the twin face-masks of joy and sorrow, is set a pair of musical instruments. Uppermost is a classical lyre, signalling the composure and equipoise of Apollo; and beneath can be seen a set of panpipes, signal of panic urgency and ungoverned passion.’

Ric Hool’s opening poem ends with ‘estrangement’:

‘man from nature
nature from man.’

In ‘Hut 3: Castles & Cabins’ the poet contemplates that space between the self and the other, ‘within & outside himself’, and wonders what might warm a man whose separation from the outside world has been emphasised by a closed door. The conclusion to these contemplations is a trust in language since surely

‘it is nothing that is kept
so bolted and secure it cannot
radiate into the world.’

It is the poet’s words that radiate beyond the closed door and when he goes on to contemplate ‘Why We Use Language’ in the first section of the substantial publication from Red Squirrel Press Ric Hool arrives at the conclusion that ‘There is something / in a word towards reality’. Prynne’s conclusion to his focus on the double-edged sense of huts is that the ‘house of language is not innocent, and is no temple’:

‘The intensities of poetic encounter, of imagination and deep insight into spiritual reality and poetic truth, carry with them all the fierce contradiction of what human language is and does. There is no protection or even temporary shelter from these forms of knowledge that is worth even a moment’s considered preference, even for poets or philosophers with poetic missions.’

Whilst this sense of the baggage of meaning carried by the word-porters is web-like in its binding I have a quiet admiration for the type of experience which Ric Hool seeks to clarify in one of his ‘La Gomera’ poems in Between So Many Words:

‘There is a central idea extending from the kitchen out,
by whatever means, and back, which sustains. It is
not just food but the prattle of everyday happenings
that nourish these people, sure as transfusion,
from the coastline inward; from the island’s heart out.’

These are lovely books and I recommend them both to everyone:
• Woodenhead Press: 5 Merthyr Road, Abergavenny, NP7 5BU;
• Red Squirrel Press: http://www.redsquirrelpress.com

Ric Hool, of course, runs the Hen & Chicks Poetry Readings in Flannel Street, Abergavenny and it will be worth going to hear Peter Hughes read next week on June 14th.

Ian Brinton 9th June 2016

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

I felt highly honoured when asked to provide a few words for the back cover of this long-awaited collection and make no apology for repeating those words here:

 

The dreams of David Miller hang tantalizingly over the mind’s edges: their disappearance is ‘manifestation and absence’, like breath into the wind. Through those ‘irregular / small gaps’ an attentiveness to the world of the other permits him to focus upon the immediate.

 

In the short essay on the ‘Theme of Language in Relation to Heidegger’s Philosophy’ which appeared in Paper Air, Volume 3, number 1 in 1982, Miller referred to the German philosopher’s regard for language as the ‘place or dimension where beings are brought into the light of unconcealment’. He concluded with a statement that is so pertinent to his own poetry:

 

The thinker and the poet would presumably be “listening” to Saying rather than merely forcing language to do their bidding; so that beings could be “released” into their “whole” being: then beings would be encountered in such a way “that Being would shine out of them”.

 

In a similar vein Miller also wrote an important account of the poetry of Charles Madge for Great Works 7 (1980) in which he referred to Madge’s poetry working ‘at an uncovering, indeed a double disclosure’:

 

It seeks to uncover and demystify the myths of capitalist society; and also to disclose a fundamental richness and beauty in both the life we do live and, importantly, the life we could live but may be prevented from living.

 

An early section of Miller’s substantial sequence ‘The Story’:

 

that story was the story you told,

a curve

as notation for music.

 

to question the term “unit” is to

question the term “totality”

and I question it.

no one knows what is meant by

“perception”.

 

This long awaited collection offers the reader both units and totality: it is a terrific volume which Shearsman has produced.

 

Ian Brinton, 30 May 2014.

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