RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Peter Carpenter

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.


Map, (Poems After William Smith’s Geological Map of 1815) Edited by Michael McKimm Worple Press

Map, (Poems After William Smith’s Geological Map of 1815)  Edited by Michael McKimm Worple Press

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the civil engineer and geologist William Smith produced his maps giving a stratigraphic table for the rocks of Britain. As Michael McKimm tells us there are about 400 copies of this map, produced between 1815 and the 1830s, and one hangs on display in the entrance hall of the Geological Society of London. Two hundred years on from Smith’s Delineation of the Strata this anthology responds to that recognition of the way we relate to what lies beneath us in terms of both geological structure and historical fabric; it is an anthology of poems dealing with that world about which Charles Olson wrote in 1950 when he declared that ‘whatever you have to say, leave / the roots on, let them / dangle // And the dirt //Just to make clear / where they come from.’ As the editor puts it:

Their poems illustrate not only the vibrancy and variety of contemporary poetry but also poetry’s unique ability to take on uncharted territory with vision, to make connections…

The anthology contains a wide range of poems and I just highlight one or two as a taster of the delights to be found in this little volume from one of our very best small publishers.

John Freeman has four entries here and I am struck by the way in which ‘Strata Smith’ reminds me of early Dorn or Olson. I am thinking here of the early Dorn historical metanarrative, ‘Relics from a Polar Cairn’, which the American Black Mountaineer had sent to Gordon Taylor in December 1953 before it was published in Cid Corman’s Origin 13 in the summer of 1954. Comments on the poem appear in the second of my Black Mountain in England sequence of articles I did for PN Review ten years ago. Freeman’s poem opens up with that conversational informality which helps to reconstruct a scene:

We don’t know what they ate or drank. Three men
in a private room on a June evening,
the glass and china cleared from the table.
One man spoke, a second wrote, having ruled
a horizontal and four verticals
on a very large sheet of paper. The one
dictating went through, in order, with names
some of which he had improvised himself,
the twenty-three layers of various stuff,
including chalk, sand, clay and fuller’s earth,
always in the same sequence underground.
Each man took a copy before they parted.

This scene is placed for us, reconstructed along lines that might have stepped out of the pages of a narrative by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and it is only by allowing the movement of the sentence to take us gently forward that we are able to register the stunning importance of the word ‘always’ heading that penultimate line. This map will change history. As Freeman puts it in the second section, ‘Nobody had ever seen this before. / There had been no understanding of what lay, / lies, beneath their feet and ours.’ The movement outwards from the local to the vast, as in some of those early Snyder poems based upon his experiences in Yosemite, is expansive as the poem concludes with days that ‘were getting longer and longer’:

that time of year when it seems light will go on
filling the whole world more and more brightly.

The anthology is too rich for me to give an account of each poem but there are delights from the well-known names of Philip Gross, Peter Robinson, John Greening, Anthony Wilson, Elizabeth Cook, Andrew Motion as well as so many more. Andy Brown, the editor of the very fine Kelvin Corcoran Reader The Writing Occurs as Song, (Shearsman 2014), gives us fossils as ‘a haunting from the underlying past’ and Helen Mort, the organiser of the recent John Riley Symposium in Leeds merges a past with a present in which she wishes to stay ‘until the very end’:

feeling the earth
move under me,

known by
nobody, part

of nothing,

Get this important anthology from

Peter Carpenter has got it right again!

Ian Brinton 10th May 2015

Urban Pastorals by Clive Wilmer (Worple Press)

Urban Pastorals by Clive Wilmer (Worple Press)

When I heard Clive Wilmer read his Urban Pastorals last Monday evening in the Cambridge University Library I was moved. There was a quiet solemnity about the delivery but it was tinged with wistfulness and a gentle wry humour that had echoes of Alan Bennett talking of his Yorkshire childhood. Peter Carpenter’s Worple Press has published these short pieces of nostalgic insight into a childhood spent in the South London of Tooting Bec and I recommend everyone to get a copy. The Press is based at Achill Sound, 2b Dry Hill Road, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1LX and is well-known for excellent productions (including volumes by Iain Sinclair).

When D.W. Harding wrote his seminal essay on nostalgia for the first issue of F.R. Leavis’s Quarterly Review, Scrutiny, in 1932 he referred to ‘simple homesickness’ being ‘an aspect of social life’ where the home that one yearns for ‘comprises the whole familiar framework—objects and institutions as well as people—within which one lives and in dealing with which one possesses established habits and sentiments.’ It is an established truth that no man is the author of himself and in moments of clarity, and humility, we can recognise how much we are the result of everything that has happened to us. This awareness is, of course, a far cry from some regressive tendencies that can be bound up within the world of nostalgia:

‘regressive because the ideal period seems to have been free from difficulties that have to be met in the present, and nostalgic because the difficulties of the present are seldom unrelated to the difficulty of living with an uncongenial group.’ (Harding)

Clive Wilmer’s beautifully poised writing never runs the danger of forfeiting its tone of recognition: the past’s importance is registered precisely because it is the past. Tooting Bec Common reappears before our eyes like some Proustian scene as the waters of time recede:

‘A boy playing on summer afternoons could forget that he did not live in a rural paradise. There were ponds and a boating lake and stretches of woodland, an Italian ice-cream cart and a swimming-pool. There were squirrels and songbirds, and you’d come home with sticklebacks in a jam-jar or a stag beetle in a matchbox.’

It was a time of hope: Clement Attlee, public drinking-fountains, Public Libraries, Socialist Ministers ‘whose lexicon was Morris and John Ruskin’ and who wanted ‘to build a paradise on earth’. When Clive Wilmer spoke about the background to this sequence of pieces he was clearly moved: the hopefulness of those years offered a glow just as the early ventures into the world of schooling centred around Miss Inkpen who ‘passed on her legacy’, a copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

‘She had already taught me to count and spell. That day, I held the English language in my hand.’

Clive Wilmer is a fine poet and I recall the short piece he wrote for the TLS in June 2007 when he referred to the world of translation. After pointing out that those who put themselves through the labour of learning a language deserve our respect and deference he made the central statement ‘but skill in languages is no guarantee of poetic accomplishment’. Urban Pastorals gives us the fruit of Miss Inkpen’s legacy as did the earlier volume from Worple Press, Stigmata. In the opening poem from that 2005 volume Wilmer’s lens of words clicks sharply and decisively:

‘A withered leaf that curls round its own form—
Though not resisting death, still on the tree,
Still of the world, simply by being there.’

‘Still’: time and quietness; a past reflected upon, mused upon; the light of Urban Pastorals when all that seemed to lie ahead is all that composes the now, the still, the still.

Ian Brinton 28th November 2014