'Chaos reads back to outline...'

Give Forest Its Next Portent, Peter Larkin (193pp. £12.95, Shearsman)

Here goes,

I am John Clare. Picnic in my pocket, looking for somewhere to perch but finding only cattle grids and barbed wire.

Sparse, spindle, scarcity, there's a great deal of all that in Peter Larkin's Give Forest Its Next Portent. Trees, the shapes of trees; spindles, hollows, canopies. Open any page, any page and find a description of a tree or what reads like a description of a tree or a build up to a description of a tree.

I am John Clare. Commuting to work on the train. The conductor asking for my ticket. I take it from my patched calico trousers and he moves on. Outside, beyond the sidings, fields of monocrops rush by; stalks of corn gather around a solitary tree.

Lots of trees:

      Filters forest into healing
            colonial arch, like real
                      trees pardon the
                      stem feathers of it
         [from 'Arch the Apartness/ / \ /Proffering Trees']

Thing is, I really like trees. I really like descriptions of trees. I also really like feeling uncertain that what I'm reading is actually a description of a tree

I am John Clare. Making desire paths through stanzas, underlining and forming my own poetry from found words.

When I read this collection of poetry, I was at first overwhelmed by my non-understanding and then gently lulled into the beauty of that feeling. I've come up with lots of ideas about what I think Give Forest Its Next Portent means. Lots. Some are okay and therefore not worth mentioning. Others are far-fetched and included in italics.

I am John Clare. On the road, trapped in blank spaces, thickets of wilderness kept from me by ridges of words, as if language, the poet and my own inability are keeping me from revelations.

Peter Larkin is certainly pointing his poetry at the sublime and there's a lot of lovely lyricism in his collection. Phrases that don't leave you.

   a greeter is more than
   the whole, we smart
   in the common alls  

                                            transfer the known to the
                                            sown in place of, to be
                                            prayed not at a
                                            shadow of prayer's poverty
                                            but already expressive
the shadow.    

I like that. I hope I quote Larkin to my children one day, like old men quote Shakespeare today. 

Oh and:

   at the foot of firs
   in unstolen time with
   a parting guide.
          [from 'praying/ // firs \\ /attenuate']

I am John Clare.  Listening to bird song, misspelling my feelings, nerves shredding as an unseen hedge strimmer drowns out the music of the countryside.

Did I mention how I really like trees? My favourite sequence in Peter Larkin's collection is the last one. It's about trees. I'm almost a hundred percent sure it's about trees. It's about praying too. Praying and trees. It's also about reducing. A sort of sung eulogy.

I am John Clare. A pencil in the upturn of my hat, collecting weeds, counting them out, and calling them poetry.

I confess to a sense of linguistic drunkenness.

I am confused. I am John Clare following badgers over edges, poetry weeds in my hair, dancing to the hypnotic engine growl that the DJ mixed with birdsong. One solitary tree, throwing out a multitude of other trees, indifferent, unthinking, survival. Sparse, spindle, scarcity.

Larkin uses language and page to an effect that is both confusing, disorientating and profound. My mind is full of latticed light and the twists and turns of branches. It takes me a long time to work my way out of this plantation of poetry. I'm awake at night recalling the shape of the page and reverberating phrases; there are borders in my own night time and a pervasive sense of exclusion.

Give Forest Its Next Portent
feels important. Its narrative of absorption and expulsion plays out in shapes and silhouettes of words.  The line 'in the shadow' becomes clearer.


I do, sometimes, feel like I'm reading a survival manual for an eco-apocalypse;

   Suppress tree and attune a compression of tree     earlier repulse is
   latterly disavoidance     grappling with flap across the field entirety's
   self-vacating envelope
       [from 'Sparse Reach Stretches the Field']

Um, ok, I'll get under the table now.

Another time I have to ask a very important question. What is a pellicle?

   What is an outer side of the pitted-out            how do these assault trees
   push a fold of fielding its hollow towards tokens of horizons?       Not
   so much a pellicle between but an intermediate faction
          [from 'Hollow/Allow/Woods]

Apparently a pellicle is 'an intermediate faction' or more precisely a thin skin or film; cells, plastic, saliva and other nice words. I feel like all of those things and a pellicle too.

I am not John Clare.

Turns out. I've just been reading some poetry.

I am the blue caterpillar blowing smoke letters but, rather than asking 'Who are you?', I ask 'What is this?'

In this collection, the human presence in the landscape is faint, popping like Himalayan Balsam into anonymous unmade beds. The woodland - nothing so romantic - the scrub keeps on growing, without me or you, goose grass and willow herb bunch up at corners, the sidings and the central reservation. I can't be John Clare or anyone else for that matter because this world of trees has been industrialised and then ignored. John Clare is in Northampton asylum and I'm sat in my garden scaring all the birds away.

     © Sarah Cave 2015