On the back cover of this new collection by Peter Robinson Sue Hubbard is quoted:
‘Robinson is at his best when describing the strangeness of marginalia such as…”a creosoted shed / with ivy bursting through its boards”…where time is distorted and realigned like perspectives in a mirror so that a return “home” feels as strange as being in a foreign country’.
When I saw this it brought back to me those lines of the French poet Philippe Jaccottet from his 1970 publication Landscapes with Absent Figures:
And so, without desiring it or seeking it, what I discovered at times was a homeland, and perhaps the most rightful one: a place which opened up to me the magical depths of Time. And if the word “paradise” came to mind, it was also probably because I breathed more freely beneath this sky, like someone rediscovering his native soil. When you leave the periphery of things and make for the centre, you feel calmer, more assured, less anxious about disappearing or living to no purpose. These “openings” which were offered to the inner eye thus seemed convergent, like the radii of a sphere; they pointed intermittently but persistently towards a seemingly still centre.
This combined sense of the near and the far, a feature of many of Peter Robinson’s finest poems, is given to us here with the first stanza of ‘Estrangement’:
Suddenly, winter trees
appear like ruined monasteries
and, further, through wrecked architraves,
under blown clouds’ blanket cover,
grey skies, thinking, as you do,
why I see much clearer now,
again the season’s distances
have shaken up our lives.
A glance at Casper David Friedrich’s painting of an ‘Abbey in the Oak Forest’ seems to metamorphose into a Mr Bleaney who ‘watched the frigid wind / Tousling the clouds’ whilst he wonders if this is, after all, ‘home’. The second stanza of ‘Estrangement’ settles for what Donald Davie might have referred to as lowered sights, the shrug of the shoulders, the patient acceptance of a second best:
Then as circumstance would have it
in planning-blighted town or city
I find us living and lumping it, see,
with what creature warmth and comfort
we wrap about us for a start
in the distance’s vicinity.
In 1974 Cid Corman produced a beautifully presented volume of Jaccottet’s poetry, Breathings, illustrated by Anne-Marie Jaccottet and published as A Mushinsha Book by Grossman Publishers. In his introduction he commented upon the French poet’s volume, Lessons:
‘even as all the elegiac poems of Lessons, celebrating the death of his father-in-law beyond lament, where the words move off like smoke into the larger sky and the dust of words settles like ash upon the old tilled ground, reveal the constant note of mortality, the “invisible bird”, so often evoked, is sensed out there within.’
The fragility of the moment and the opening it creates in the surrounding world, so that we can look through the immediate to sense what happens if we cleanse the doors of perception, is there, for me, in the quiet beauty of many of these poems. ‘All Change’ is precise and echoing: it evokes a moment and yet leaves the guard’s cry resonating:
Then next thing you know
from a partial leaf-fall
come re-emergent distances,
new chill factors, time
shifting more quickly, and loss is
sensed as that bit more precise
now raindrops lit by streetlamps
are speckling the panes
and thunderheads, a shorting day,
its crepitations over us,
again, they cover such a range
of start-lines at each terminus
making our last hopes first past the post,
as when a train manager cuts in to say:
‘All change, please. All change.’
Peter Robinson will be reading at Swedenborg Hall this coming Tuesday, January 20th. I urge you to turn up if you can; it will be very good indeed!
Ian Brinton January 18th 2015