SKIES by Nigel
THE CONCERTO FORM
by Anthony Hawley,
115pp, £8.95, Shearsman
84pp, £8.95, Shearsman
Wheale's Raw Skies
is a new and selected which draws on nearly 30 years' worth of writing, and
writing in great variety - he gives us the Orcadian seascapes on his
doorstep, poems about Gwen John's painting and her notebooks, alongside
translations of (and notes about) early Arabic qasidas.
I know someone who'd enjoy this section, I thought, immediately wanting to
pull the book apart. It would make excellent pamphlets. And then I read the
small print: that's what it was. As a book, it's heterogeneous. But does that
matter? If you're looking for a overall characterisation of a book and what
it touches on, yes; it shifts about too much for me to do that.
The first section that I wanted to commend to a friend was 'The Plains of
Sight', on Gwen John. Spare poems about John's life and paintings and
collaged phrases from her notebooks are punctuated by prose discussions of
her work, and quotations from review. There's a light touch here, and the
prose 'exhibition note' makes it quite different from other poem-sequences
Painting seems a longstanding interest of Wheale's. Another writer's own
words are collaged in a recent poem 'Sea Notes' which the footnote says is
'lightly adapted from Borlaise Smart The Techniques of Sea Painting (1946)'.
'Lightly adapted' means that it sounds as if it stays close to the source material
- though one
longs for it to take off from phrases in its opening stanza:
There are no
tricks in sea painting
no short cuts
to success as a sea painter.
I intend to
analyse waveform through my responsive medium,
the main lines with a flowing brush of thin Ivory Black.
detail would suggest the sea stood still to be portrayed.
This poem is among a group at the beginning of Raw Skies set on Orkney, so this is a
parcel of poems I should keep for myself. There are some stunning lines:
inbreath as two hundred wings
beat them upwards...
stuttering, a seeded trail of cries
the green and the grey,
but I'd like to hear Nigel Wheale read them. Sometimes you can hear a
writer's voice straight away, but his is a voice in which I don't readily
hear the rhythms, I think because at times there's more clotted description
than I can take in -
Self-possessed night-waves pulse to the bay shore
moving under darkened indian skin
free-loading surfers busk in dayglo suits
ditzy miner's lamps at bronzed foreheads.
There's simpler language in much of Anthony Hawley's The Concerto Form. He shares a landscape theme
with Nigel Wheale but handles words and space quite differently. In this
section (below) of
' "Awhile"- Field Guide for Voices' he points
straightforwardly to the naming of landscape that stands for its forms. I'll
show you the whole of section 4:
I like this, but maybe not enough for a whole page. And there's something
familiar about this territory: has Peter Finch been here? Or maybe I'm
thinking of Hamish Fulton? Like him, Anthony Hawley refers to himself 'in the
field': 'For hours walking without a sign / without a sentence', though he
goes nowhere near as far into the visual arrangement of words as Hamish
Fulton when he's registering the out-there and in-here: near the opening of
the same poem for instance comes (and the brackets are part of it):
in my shoes (...)
of one family
Several pieces are built up from intense moments of perception. 'New England
Pictures: Outline for an Opera with No Persons' is made of ten brief units
written at different times in a year and which refer to signs that 'persons'
have made. It ends by referring back to the beginning, as the seasons do.
'Vesuvian Texts: Outline for an Opera with Two Persons' is fifteen short
prose poems alternating the (quite different) experience of the Two Persons Ð
although the 'opera' 's stage directions are also written in. It opens:
'lift the curtain to ethers hovering rising across morning a scene torn with
sunbursts...', then shifts about between the Two Persons, and comments 'how one
misses the other who never knew about the arrival'.
The language is presented almost note-form, which makes you read quickly. Yet
it needs to be read slowly. Note-form does not mean spare language. Below is
the third piece from 'Afield' (whole page, text at the top); read slowly and
you'll be less irritated by overdosing on alliteration:
flickers faint glowworm's signal
timber's lit turned on
we crawl and cower
spangled grass fugitive flash
watch flies fringe our every
odd move a
take a stanza from George Messo's 'A Trabzon Orchard' in Entrances for comparison. The natural
world and reflection are here too, but this sounds effortless:
A week of
a sense left
Interestingly George Messo's title poem names a contradiction in writing
about the natural world: 'Bored, as you are, with constant
re-description/.../- you opt to
leave the afternoon / and step, one naked foot, into the Choruh river.'
Although George Messo teaches in Oman, he worked previously in Turkey. And
Saudi Arabia. The poems are set around the Black Sea. Obviously this enables
him to refer to a particular and different kind of landscape, vegetation,
mountains, but it also puts him in the position of out-of-context observer.
What is noticed may be small; it is held up and has to be accounted for: 'A
landscape closing in to accent each / particular thing' is how he puts it in
the first section of 'too little where'
it changed, Was barely
light when he set out; time, he hardly
ahead. An overwhelm-
ing wood. The
freshness of his walk.
closing in to accent each
There are a few poems like 'too little where' written in note-form but most
are not. All of them, though, share a delicate choice of particulars held up
to be wondered at, particulars whose import often lies just beyond what can
Today is not
the day to leave. By some concocted chance
in a smoke-filled
tea-house far from now, we'll understand
who sent us
here, and why, and what it meant to stay.
['First There is Morning']
These three are all good-looking books, different shapes, interesting covers.
the smallest of the three (the page count's misleading; there are several
blanks), but this is the one that leaves me wanting more.
© Jane Routh 2006