Edwin Stockdale (32pp, £6.00, Red Squirrel Press)
Aventurine is a very unusual pamphlet. Edwin
Stockdale has a passion for 19th century novels and has built this
elegant themed collection around them, in particular the Brontes
and Elizabeth Gaskell. This is his debut publication and it announces a poet
who is meticulous in his writing. He drives his pen into the heart of these
novels. For example, in the opening poem, Monkshaven,
he expands on Sylvia’s purchase of a new cloak, illuminating her emotions and
using the cloak as a symbol of freedom. Stockdale is a poet of place, and Monkshaven is vividly drawn. He begins by describing the
countryside she passes through, using it to show her isolation and bleakness:
Cross a tract of peat
watched by a brambling
foraging for seed
but there are none.
He contrasts these scenes with the tightly-packed houses in the town, and
again with the openness of the quay, hinting subtly at her desire to escape
and find a new life. He is capable of evocative detail, which strike the
imagination with a shock of pleasure, for example, describing her hair as
‘Snowdrops’ is a beautifully developed sequence, coming out of a moment in
Gaskell’s Ruth, when snowdrops are
placed on her pillow. One does not need to have read the novel to appreciate
the poems, when the sequence begins:
The stars are enough to
break her heart.
The poems take the reader through the protagonist’s life and death, with
details as precise as embroidery. Stockdale is excellent at creating mood and
letting things speak for themselves. He deploys colours exquisitely to summon
Copper sun glows on
Viridian dragonflies catch
the last of this heat.
Sand martins scratch a
home in the bank,
a wash of grey wagtail
round the pool’s margin.
Speedwell grows in the
here and there are
All this gorgeousness of nature is from section iv, ‘Forest Murmurs’, and
reflects Ruth in love. The snowdrops of the last section stand in contrast,
and the larch covered with snow from the first section reappears in the last:
‘a solitary larch/ branches heavy with snow’. The strong colours and the
natural elements are used to give cohesion, and poignantly the sense of the
brevity of human life.
Stockdale’s work is astonishingly mature for a poet under 30 years
The poem ‘Corrections’ explores the two separate lives of Charlotte Bronte,
as identified by Gaskell in her Life of
Charlotte Bronte: the writer’s life and the woman’s life, with their
different responsibilities. The poem is a testament to the friendship of the
two women and the intense concentration of Gaskell while writing it, and the
language is once again as precise as it can be:
Charlotte paces the
as frost curls its iron
fist at the casement.
She is indelible under
The last line quoted above has powerful resonances. The image of Charlotte
seems to fill with little parsonage at Haworth, but indelible also refers to
the ink both authors write in.
Another sequence, ‘Snow and Fire’, has seven sections, each one about a
different place visited by Stockdale, which is an important place for his
subject matter, such as places which inspired scenes in the novels, or places
they visited or lived, such as ‘Hathersage Moor’,
and ‘Rydings, Birtstall’.
Each one of these poems is a palimpsest: the poet sees Charlotte and Ellen
walking in the garden, or visualises scenes from the novels:
Is that Grace Poole
A sputtering candle
in her hand?
Stockdale has immersed himself deeply in his reading but he is also an
observer of birds and nature, so these poems never feel stale or old-fashioned.
Instead they flicker with life and fresh air, blowing away any cobwebs that
might have gathered around the spun-out stories of nineteenth century women.
I read this little book from cover to cover with increasing pleasure. Like
all Red Squirrel books, the production is exquisite. This debut sets
Stockdale up as a poet to watch, a poet of great promise and originality.
© Angela Topping 2016