Some of the poems, like the book itself, have wholly lower
case titles, and those poems have no upper case at all. Punctuation is sparse
in all the poems or appears so. Sometimes it's the single sentence stretched
over several or more lines that exaggerate this visually, as well as the
whole openness, sometimes there is an interspersing of reference; all the
poems have double or more spaces between the lines. Many of the poems have
footnotes. Her most recent previous book, 'How the bicycle shone', a new and
selected, was 2007: nothing she has published has seemed rushed, as now this
new book seems not.
Place and/or people are often vital to what is present or recalled ('In the
Botanic Gardens, Oxford', 'In Armenia', 'in her kitchen', 'Morning Room',
'Scarecrow winter') the title often, as it were, the pausing point, the poem
then sparse and fragile. Often a poem will begin by location or subject, to
follow-through quite differently. Here is the whole of 'Coronation':
By and by, the
We waited quietly for the
Queen who wasn't there, whose car -
The moon of alabaster.
Light of men
that lay across her
throat, a thwart scar.
Bitter, the heart's sweet
thought of -
the gold abyss of God.
We waited quietly for.
The flying buttress of
the sea, put by.
Because they have
taken away my Lord, and I -
A footnote gives the location and the Biblical reference points. If I bring
in here a second poem, 'my
mother, her brother', it is possible perhaps to see the book's greater or
lesser movement one way or another between measures of break-up, of either
fragmentation or cross-reference:
as to the husk of her -
husk, little house -
who was houselled, here,
at Thornham Parva -
death was older
death stood up for her
death disfigured her
whose saints were of an
It neither begins nor ends, the spacing as it were makes a play of the poem's
being there, being there is at once focussed and ghostly. A footnote of 53
words to the poem's 38 tells us about the 'Thornham Parva Retable, dating
from around 1330'.
To say the poems are meditations is too obvious, except that it is worth
saying because such writing is rare; one must say more than that, that the
way here as a record in poetic form is unique and, for anyone who has read
her poems over decades now, the patient development is of something earned by
a kind of stealth. I hope not on the way to blank pages of silence, for what
is shared here is both beautiful and awkward, it cannot say and it goes some
way towards saying.
Proceeding is by way of undoing. The mystic, Julian of Norwich (died 1416),
first occupied Gillian Allnutt's attention years ago, and the final poem in
'Nantucket and the Angel' (1997) might stand for the movement of her poetry
from that book to the new one, the title echoing Julian's 'All Shall Be Well'
- spoken to her, she said, by God.
Julian started this or it
that small pot
from Norwich now with its
little arrangement of lungwort,
which even and all
through January flowered
beneath the house wall,
Esh, the hill
and where the pit was,
as if by her hand or by
the fold of her
big brown anchorite
So I imagine, sitting
in the sun, knowing
all shall be well
and all manner of thing shall
not writing about that knowing
and all the arrangements
I never made for it.
© David Hart 2013