Writing and Rewriting Place
Falling into Place, Jane Routh (123pp,
£8.99, Smith Doorstop)
Maps & Legends, Jo Bell and
Jane Commane (169pp, £10.99, Nine Arches Press)
With three poetry collections published by Smith Doorstop,
the prose medium of Falling into Place
is a departure for Jane Routh. Described on the front cover as 'A Celebration
of Wildlife, Work and Weather in the Uplands of North West England', Falling
into Place is a sensitive engagement with
Lancashire's Forest of Bowland. The majority of the text is structured as a
nature journal over the year with Routh's striking black and white
photographs that create visual pauses.
Despite the genre, Jane Routh remains a poet. The writing is playful; take
for example 'a quirk of woodland'. Figurative language and a keen sense of
sound develop this. In 'May', Routh writes of the 'Horse chestnuts
out-classing everything for a couple of days before sinking back into their
heavy green.' A few lines further, Routh describes how her car 'changes colour
[...] covered by an even dusting of pale yellow talcum - birch pollen.' Routh
embraces the human world within the natural world and this honesty challenges
the often idealistic character of the genre.
However, Routh's ability to identify her surroundings creates an expectation
that is occasionally unfulfilled in certain passages. At one point, Routh
describes the woodland floor where
'There are rare things too, tiny insignificant green things that
excite botanists. Wood spiders, stuff I don't know about.' This lack of
knowledge is unhelpful. This continues in 'June' when Routh claims that in
making their nests, bluetits fly in '400 loads of moss and twig' and supply
their 'young with their 10500 larvae' before going on to say 'I can't
remember where I read these figures, but they're unforgettable.' This hesitancy makes it difficult to
fully accept August Kleinzahler's comparison of Routh's writing with that of
Yet the social context arising from her engagement with her environment
creates two strong final sections entitled 'Trace' and 'Fireside'. Routh's
research on James Taylor (referenced in the first census for the land)
prompts interesting reflections on his experience of the same land. Such introduces themes of mining and
enclosure and, with regard to the latter, deepens Kleinzahler's association
of Routh with John Clare. As Routh conceives of a character from the future
called 'young Martin', this time-travelling quality of Falling into
Place becomes thought-provoking.
Maps & Legends: Poems to Find Your Way By provides an urban contrast to Routh's Falling
into Place. Furthermore, the twenty-four
poets in this anthology challenge one definite idea of place: many of the
poems are stimulating journeys into uncertainty. Edited by Jo Bell and Jane
Commane, Maps & Legends
celebrate five years of Nine Arches Press by creating a 'tasting menu' of
their well-known and emerging poets.
Although placed half way through the anthology, Matt Merritt's 'Warning
Against Using These Poems As a Map' introduces many of the productive
tensions that engage these poets.
No scale is provided.
You are being left
To guess the exact
Between what's said
And what was...
You are your own key.
Assign the appropriate
To each symbol
The body becomes the 'key' in Peter Carpenter's 'Gift'. After a line by
Mandelstahm, Carpenter presents
A body. My very own
to hold up a finger,
and say I touch the sky.
Carpenter's phenomenological lyric is graceful in its slight rhymes ('father'
'eczema' 'terrors') and finds the body as the centre of location; an anchor;
a 'comforter' despite its own mysterious 'crop circles of eczema' and 'crisis
of thinning hair'. It is exciting, then, to find Carpenter's sense of mystery
radically extended by Phil Brown's earlier 'Diptych'.
6. A town hid in for a
7. Paper I scour for
9. A meal blackened in an
11. The girl living on
the floor above (4)
By adopting the structure of crossword clues, the reader is simultaneously
invited and excluded from following these coded co-ordinates. Unlike
Carpenter's piece, it becomes difficult to inhabit the 'I' of Brown's poem
and to 'Assign the appropriate value' and yet the process remains playful
rather than frustrating.
The experimental is certainly present in this anthology, but so too are
participations with form as illustrated by Roz Goddard's 'The Sopranos
Sonnets'. 'Christopher' presents an eerie interaction between acts of writing
Every day the same:
Stumbling in the alleys
looking for a gift
Out of there, lost again
in a dark city.
With regard to the latter line, Goddard's language can feel weak and this
cannot be excused by the form. Except for the volta and conclusive rhyming
couplet, Goddard is deploying the sonnet sparingly. However, Goddard's
confident use of image is wonderfully distracting as in the following:
Like the bodies were
stories in long grass -
That first unbelievable
Goddard's use of the Sopranos television series for a series of sonnets is
provocative and the use of cultural reference is taken to an extreme in Maria
Taylor's amusing 'Larkin'. As Philip Larkin is mentioned 27 times in seven
stanzas, Larkin is not simply a literary milestone but redesigns the
speaker's landscape: 'birds are tweeting Larkin! Larkin! Larkin!' and leads to the confession 'I think I'm going
As Taylor's poem plays with Larkin's name to the point where it looses all
meaning, so Chris McCabe's 'City of London' fascinates with its perspective
on the ever evolving city.
The men in luminous
direct us upwards
- Blackfriars Station,
Major New Development -
towards the City of
Akin to Roy Fisher's 'A Furnace', McCabe revels in the physical and textual
strata of London. With pub names, street names and street signs erupting
throughout the poem, the signifier and the signified threaten to dislocate:
A half-moon behind The
Monument. A Vauxhall stops
And a man in uniform gets
out at THE FINE LINE
McCabe creates a disorientating effect that dramatises the dynamic of London
itself. The subtitle of this anthology, 'Poems to Find Your Way' should
not be read as if it belonged to the Bloodaxe anthologies Staying
Alive or Being Alive. Rather, it should be welcomed as a paradox in
which the process of finding always creates further intrigue.