Wednesday, February 20, 2008

To have eyes

There are so many voices that flourish outside the main streams of poetry publication and reputation making. By pure accident, more often than not, you happen on a voice embedded in its own sustaining system of small presses and fugitive pamphlets, and realise, with a certain despairing bafflement at the invisibility of so much that is good, the lifetime's quiet achievement behind it. I was much taken with a poem by Geoffrey Holloway, taken from David Morley's site.

Double Vision: Spring

The cat among the grasses nodding as it sniffs —
like a new-bathed infant shaping for a kiss.
The swans opulent, their bulrush-furry throats
ringed, rippling, with filamented light.
Shadows that are swallow-blue, yet brittle-clear,
that match the trespass of chrysanthemums released
by lancing heels of divers whanged from trees —
and all along the towpath the spun rod,
the dainty float cavorting in the sun.
To have eyes. To see.

The stagnant salmon like a crippled submarine
leprous in the shallows by the dripping arch —
a bone-white mouth insensitively working,
a quiet stammer, hung with sentences of death.
What was colour, kick and phallic exultation,
that shook the stream with the torpedoes of a myth,
laid-up like David for a chit of useless warmth,
like sunken David (that prodigious king)
for a stone tribute, a buck’s delinquent sling.
To have eyes. To see.

The attentiveness of the writing is immediately attractive, added to the rhythm -- a rhythm wedded to the specificity of the language. The lines are full of information delivered in concrete Anglo Saxon particulars. The language too combines a kind of traditional keen noticing of nature with an urgent modern metaphorising -- 'The stagnant salmon like a crippled submarine/leprous in the shallows...', the 'bone-white mouth' 'hung with sentences of death', the stream shaken with 'the torpedoes of a myth'. There's a lot going on in a short space, in a verb-less presentational present: a kind of rapt but complex apprehension. Holloway is not a poet I'm familiar with, so it's good to be introduced to him. He was born in Birmingham in 1918 and died in 1997. He was, according to Morley, 'one of the leading spirits of the group called the New Lakes Poets that included – among others – Norman Nicholson, Dorothy Nimmo, Jacob Polley, Peter Rafferty, David Scott, Christopher Pilling, Neil Curry, Patricia Pogson, William Scammell, M.R. Peacocke and, for three years, myself.'

Morley has edited the Collected Poems, just published by the small press, Arrowhead Press and makes a good case for him:

What was always consistently right in his work was tone. This was all his own, and his integrity of feeling and response was the heart of it. His many subjects included the memory of war, the consolation and difficulty of love, and his alert responses to the natural world. With W.S. Graham, his exact contemporary, he was one of the most distinctive voices in twentieth century British poetry, with a genuinely gifted ear for the music and the movement of language.

He published twelve collections of poetry, including the book that established his reputation, Rhine Jump, a Poetry Book Society Choice in 1974.

Rhine Jump is an astonishing book which still yields a huge energy and alertness in its language. Subject-wise, it feels like a massive gamble made by a poet who did not wish to speak much about his war experience, but could no longer resist the ghosts trying to speak through him. The honesty and humility in its tone makes the book very distinctive and necessary within our own time. It is still one of the best places to start reading him.

The Collected Poems of Geoffrey Holloway, edited and introduced by David Morley. Arrowhead Press

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