GROWLING by Brian Louis Pearce
Poetry, when experienced on the page, has the effect (among others) of producing the illusion of the absent sound of a voice. Each poem will produce a unique set of sounds, a tonal quality. I'm not certain I hear a 'growl' in Pearce's collection Growling, so much as I hear a purr, or at times a yelp or a bark. And sometimes he attends to the silences between words. To attempt to get at the energies this collection embodies, I think I'd prefer 'Prowling' - and that's what I like about Pearce's poetry - this collection is all about movement and stillness. Take, for example, 'White Water' in which the energies of the rapids are evoked through sound, movement and anthropomorphism:
Seeing no other way:
white water, broken, sizzling at the sill
of demon swirlings, luring to destroy.
Many of Pearce's poems are 'studies', suggesting in both their titles and the minimalism of their forms, a sense of Eastern-inspired contemplation. But, for me, they do so with an energetic twist, brought about by a certain jauntiness of rhythm. This is worked through by deft use of rhyme and anchored to a conversational tone. Here's what I mean:
Feel I ought to feel older,
break my flute: watch the butterfly flutter
in all its fabulous hush from sky to clover.
(from 'Studies at Seventy: Basso')
The movement and the play on internal rhyme works perfectly here. The following stanza reads:
from clover to ground: gawp, gasp
at death and good manners gone bad, turned sour
wind rises, come the autumn, I'll be banished.
Again, that fusion of contemplation and more voiced, conversational character. Here, however, I like it less. Though I love the flop down to earth from the previous stanza, what I dislike has something to do with the descriptions of movement and sound - those two words 'gawp' and 'gasp'. I want to language to make me do these things; these are not words that do so by themselves as much of Pearce's poetry does. The power of the previous 'fabulous hush from sky to clover' was reduced for me here.
Elsewhere, there are sometimes too many items or senses packed into a line, for example in a later 'Basso' sequence, 'hopes mangled, shredded; charged; confined to camp'. I'm swamped here with associations, sounds, images competing and ultimately diminishing each other's powers. Pearce is a poet of exuberance, but this sometimes overflows the formal boundaries he sets for himself. Overall, though, I was impressed by this sheer delight in the possibilities of words, when inwardly reflecting: 'I am fallen into the sere and yellow kloof, / yet can conjure a few tricks still / if to please // only my parched, mazed self' , Pearce's voices are ingenious, unusual and assert themselves as characters - difficult to do in so small a space. He is also able to conjure vivid imagery which brings the landscape into relief, as in 'Studies at Seventy: Profoundo' where I feel as though I could be there on 'terraces' with 'pale cyclamen, this path up through the olives, / these pink and lemon roofs below the hills,'.
Pearce animates everything, making us see each thing we encounter, organic or not, as possessing a personality, an energy of its own, a music, encouraging us to be taken up on the waves of these energies. By extension, he infuses language with energy, containing it formally, maintaining a delicate balance between that containment and the freedom of being caught up in these energies:
dive head first, submerge in
the liquid mass, see clear
to the bottom, drink deep, sport
sub-marine where it's shallow
with coral or crowfoot, fin
through the ripples, wear mere
gills and nipples, in thought.
(from 'Dry Mass')
There is a sense in which movement, rendered through the written word, converts itself into sound, which is fascinating enough for me to accept the prowlings, the flowings, the tumbles and the musings, as growlings.
© Abi Curtis 2005