Often you want to read something that feels natural. Like it was meant to be. For that reason I struggle to read magazines thoroughly, unless I’m taking a meaningful tour of the toilet in the early hours of the morning. In my area there’s a small second hand book shop that’s run by two elderly ladies. It’s one of those places where you find the most beautiful books, for a reasonable price. A few weeks back I found one of those gems.
This time a book of poetry. A painted field by Robin Robertson. All I can say is…wow. All my life I’m certain that my literary mind grew up elsewhere. I appreciate local and contemporary literature. However, the minute you bury me in anything of English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh decent, you have me intellectually weak at the knees. You remember the first time you met that girl you like, and you felt your legs swimming through a bowl of pudding…that’s me.
Robertson is Scottish. Well, that’s where he grew up and most of the book I’ve read is based there. The words are crisp and tight. From reading this book I know every word was firmly placed. Parts of it are a bit depressing, where he mentions dealing with suicide, and walking in on a friend of his who had an overdose. Other parts are damn intriguing, and rich. I get the feeling this poet is rooted. He has a firmness inside himself and is prepared to show us some of that. This is the world I recognize, the place I feel most alive in.
For those wondering what the hype is all about, I’ve typed out two of his poems. If you enjoy wrestling with words, this might excite you. 😛
Visiting my Grandfather
In a room as dark as his
you remembered color, in amongst
brown bakelite, teak,
and felt for furnishing,
the black-out curtains from the war.
I saw the blue cuneiform of the crossword
looming under the magnifier
for my father to finish;
the slow valves of the radio
warming like coals
into English voices;
the rainbow spills, for his pipe,
in a beaker by the hearth.
And the fire, of course, when lit,
full of all the usual pleasures:
caves, dragons, life.
But being children
we were out too far to feel the heat,
kicking our legs on the high chairs,
nursing our flat lemonade
and trying not to see our blurred ghosts
in the dresser’s unsilvering glass.
Once a year, though, it was summer,
and in the great window
were the white yachts of Stonehaven,
the yellow yachts in the bay.
As if colour TV
had come to Scotland, all afternoon
we watched a testcard
of acid primaries
on wavelengths of green
and a lemony blue.
It was a chill parlour, despite the fire,
but leaving was like opening
the door of a fridge: cold
dumping on your sandaled feet,
your bare legs.
Finding my way back from the kitchen,
arms out in the dark
for the connecting door.
I came against
a womanly thing,
some kind of shawl
or handbag dressed in feathers,
which I felt all over,
putting my hands down now –
till I touched the wetness,
neck and sudden beak,
left it swinging as I ran,
leaving half my life behind
with the hung pheasant
and half in my hands with blood:
rose madder, rust.
Treading through the half-light of ivy
and headstone, I see you in the distance
as I’m telling our daughter
about this place, this whole business:
a sister about to be born,
how a life’s new gravity suspends in water.
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree’s jigsaw;
by your father’s grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.