Jane Routh understands weathers and 'the slow pulse of the
seasons/lending a little glow of predictability', as she says in 'Night and
Day'. As someone who farms and manages woodlands and a flock of geese in the
Forest of Bowland in North Lancashire and someone who goes out sailing, she
needs to. What to many (now that most of us are townies) is strange,
half-known or buried in the deepest recesses of our memories, both individual
and collective, is here shared as intimate knowledge. Many of the poems are
like walks through fields or woods or along beaches in the company of someone
who knows and makes you see things
with a more careful and considerate eye. For example in 'The Half', a poem about fishing which can
stand up beside Elizabeth Bishop's celebrated 'The Fish' and Ted Hughes's
'Pike', Routh confides in us as if we were sitting there in the boat with
It was a flat
sea, an idle sea: none of the tide-rise
we were used to up north. Blue
but slicked all over with chrome.
It was an
empty sea: no boats, no coast
thousand foot rock called Redonda out west.
Or east - the
sun was unreadable, shadows were wrong.
I felt like a
bird on migration must feel
if the map in
its head goes blank.
Landscapes and seascapes and their counterpart in the details of maps and
charts are mostly what this book is about. Maps are not always as reliable as
we would trust them to be. They go out of date and, of course, say nothing of
weather. In 'Her First Flight in a Microlight' we are asked to
See how wrong
the maps are now:
slow curve has changed direction
happened to the road beyond the scrub?
brilliance must be a pond.
But maps are historical
documents and do provide inroads into the history of places - as do the
physical traces left on landscape by generations of others, along with their
handed-down knowledge and their stories. In our walks with Jane Routh we
pause to hear stories of saints, mysterious poachers (one Skirrow who, like
Heathcliff and Cathy, still haunts the landscape) then shown 'a place above
the river I'd go/when I was sad', where
my half-bucketful of sorrows disappeared
in a landslip
with the oak, and nowhere left
to stand and
say This was where.
alright too, as if the landscape
timed it to
accompany my life.
[from 'Landscape with Figures']
This is a very rich and intensely rewarding collection. Like R.S. Thomas's
Wales, the natural scene is never sentimentalised but rather acknowledged for
what it is, something lived and lived in. In a comic piece called
'Wavelengths', Routh patiently deals with a man from the radio sent to
interview her. The poem ends
The man from
slips, but I catch him:
he's come to
no harm; it's only mud.
What I've said so far is only part of the story, part of the extraordinary
range of pleasures afforded by this book. The journey we accompany Routh on
takes us to various parts of the country - the Fens, the Humber Bridge, the
west coast of Scotland - all the time in search sometimes of the moment ('this
sea, here, this hull, this moment/we are here'), sometimes of 'knowledge of
what' is 'harboured underneath', sometimes a contentment with the
ordinariness of the everyday, 'the washing-up bowl, the settee,/grey days, no
wind, and especially fog'. There are tender poems too exploring the weathers
of the heart in which the poet shares intimate details of family history with
us. In the deeply moving 'Hearts', we watch her caring for and about someone
under water, he was
under sedation and maybe that was
like water to
him: I watched his heart
under his skin
and always so
long before the next
no matter how
hard I willed it.
This is Jane Routh's second collection; it confirms the high regard with
which her first, Circumnavigation, was received. Teach Yourself Mapmaking is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, deservedly
so. Its range is impressive, its vivid language recreates the physical
sensation of what is being described, ranging from the gritty and muscular
to the tender and deeply thoughtful. Smith/Doorstop have a star on their list.