Monday, November 07, 2011

Robin Robertson – Three Poetic Themes in "The Wrecking Light"

Robin Robertson’s most recent poetry book The Wrecking Light, (Anansi Press, 2010) was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot poetry prize and the Costa Book Awards for Poetry . 

The sonata-like structure of the book (made of three sections I- Silvered Water, II- Broken Water,  III- Unspoken Water and the Notes and Acknowledgements ) provides some disparate clues as to how the poetic matter appears to be orchestrated inside this volume. 

I would suggest that reading thorough the
Notes and Acknowledgements first may be a good way to pick up on some of the threads of the book. 

Silvered Water
, notes the author, hints at a Scottish tradition: “placing a silver coin in a bowl of water or throwing it into a well is a traditional Scottish blessing, or preparation for a wish.”

This first section of the book renders a point of equilibrium – a glittery yet stifling surface caught under the magnifying glass of a second, from which an unraveling is about to begin:

"The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
has woken the sealed lake,
leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
just curved plates of air
re-shaping under the trap-ice,
straining to give; the groans and rumbles
like someone shifting heavy tables far below.”

From Signs on a White Field
The long prose-like poem Leaving St. Kilda ends the first part of The Wrecking Light with a haunting scenery, reminiscent of  John Glenday’s poems:

“all eyes hold the gaze of the rocks
as the boat turns east – as if
to look away would break the spell –“

From Leaving St. Kilda

And the breaking of the spell does indeed happen in part two of the book, Broken Water

This section of
The Wrecking Light, includes poetry whose goal appears to be the piercing of the harmonious shield painstakingly constructed in Silvered Light. It is a section that includes a few poems rewritten by Robin Robertson based on texts from Ovid, Baudelaire and Neruda. 

Robin Robertson’s rendition of Neruda’s Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market is overflowing with images and rhythm:

“Only you:
dark bullet
from the depths
carrying only
your one wound
but renewed
always resurgent”

From Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market

Past the turbulence of Broken Water, we enter the calming fjords of the last section in the book: Unspoken Water, whose title is, once more, explained in
Notes and Acknowledgements: “In Scotland, this is traditionally regarded as a powerful charm against the Evil Eye and for healing the sick."

Thus we find ourselves in the redeeming territory of half-uttered spells, full circle from where we have started off – an invisible concept of a home (as in the poems The Wood of Lost Things and Landfall.)

“…nothing but the names
of the places I came from, years ago;
and you pull me from the waves,
drawing me out like a skelf,
as I would say:
a splinter.”

From Landfall

There is, of course, no  conclusion to a poetry book, especially a well-written one, such as
The Wrecking Light.

But there is perhaps a quote from one of Robin Robertson's interviews that might be borrowed  in lieu of a conclusion to this post: ‘Writers write for the void.”

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