The Wrecking Light [Robin Robertson]

So I read the Fernando Pessoa collection as part of my Portugal trip but this was the first proper poetry collection.  The book itself is different, a sturdier cover, the paper is thicker and stronger, perhaps better to hold the majesty of the words printed upon it in a relaxed spaced font.

Having just finished Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna I was looking forward to this.  Forna’s prose is as beautiful as poetry, but I wasn’t sure how, I mean, how do you read a poetry book?  Do you read one poem a day, take in all it’s meanings? Look up words and learn it off by heart? I don’t know.  So I did neither of these.  It was hot, I took it to Wandsworth common and read it, intersped with podcasts (History of China, Notes from Spain, Shakespeares restless world..), in fact completed it, over a weekend.  24 hours.  That can’t be right? But I loved it.

From the opening poems, including the cold Signs on a White Field, Robertsons poetry is a beautiful trip through a natural and human dreamscape.

in the railway lines
from a train about to arrive.

The Tweed is short, sharp and funny, that you will re-read as you laugh, just to enjoy the humour again.  About Time is a poignant look at lifetime, mundane events are juxtaposed with epic events.

Cat, Failing
And with that
loss of face
his face, I see,
has turned human.

Strindberg in Berlin – A portrait of a man facing up to what he has gambled on and lost (details are in the notes at the end, if you like me, have no idea who Strindberg is)
I’ve now pulled out
every good tooth
in search of the one that was making me mad

The second part begins with a simple brutal scene in Law of the Island and continues with Khalighat a vivid observation on a sacrifice.  Pentheus and Dionysus is an eloquent retelling straight from Greece, beautifully set down, as is The Daughters of Minyas, a much darker telling of the powers of the gods, but told true to it’s tradition.

The Great Midwinter Sacrifice, Uppsala is a haunting description, a man walking through the darkness after a feast.

The poems are all evocative and powerful.  The collection paints a bleak landscape that is punctured with some sharp humour.  I can’t say I understand the binding of the poems to a theme, and that is completely my failing, not the poet.  I have since dipped back in to read certain poems, and indeed merely to pick one out at random to enjoy.  The simple Hammersmith Winter beautifully ends the collection, but not my thirst for poetry.


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