Saturday, March 14, 2015

Topographic poetry by Peter Larkin

I discovered Peter Larkin's book of poems by accident. I was browsing the poetry section of the American Bookshop in The Hague. At first I was captivated by the wonderful cover and the beautiful typography. But then I saw the text.
Larkin’s poetry, while praised within poetry circles ... has been largely ignored, perhaps because of the naturalist focus of his work, its quietness and rather unglamorous abstruseness, or because of its minute observation of arboreal phenomena.
The poetry describes woods. Those remains of woods in our industrialized landscape. Plantations with electricity pylons. It is very recognizable but also totally disorienting. It forces you to think about landscape phenomena that you would never notice. The lines of the horizon through the trees. Roots finding their way in the soil. But you're never sure if you understand the words correctly.
It's intelligible on the level of the word ... but on the sentence and paragraph level it ascends quickly into something that, like a tree, the human may only walk around, view, dissect, or disfigure: recoverable at the necrostic root but hermetic in its ramifications.
The poems are hypnotic. Many words keep coming back in different constellations. The paragraphs read like an inhuman text generated by a Markov-chain process. They are so hard to read that I can never manage more than one page at a time. The language forces you to reverse-engineer the sentences, to solve the poems like cryptographs. What (simple) observational phenomenon is described in this abstruse language? It is punishing, but I keep coming back for more.
My other concern has been with matters of landscape and ecology, often focussing on the predicament and analogical patterning of the woods and plantations which residually border our lives. ... The prose character of much of my writing ... may also reflect my fascination ... with the possibility of exploring underlying phenomenological and theological 'arguments' in the mode of continuously noted variations and takes on 'outdoor' perception.
It is fitting that neither the reviews nor the interviews shed much light on these mysterious poems. The explanatory texts are just as complex as the poems themselves. This is good.
I will not try to add an explanation. I will just juxtapose a few fragments with their topographical explanation, as given by the author. It is a relief to see that there is some hard reality under the mystical revelations. But it is not mystical at all. It is what you get by looking objectively at the landscape. Wonderful!
Peter Larkin, Lessways Least Scarce Among, 2012, Shearsman Books

Topographic Note
Tuif Hill, once described as a "totally unjustifiable plantation" and now much reduced, lies near the northeast perambulation (boundary) of the New Forest where an east-west line of pylons pierces what is strictly the chin of Millersford Plantation.

The miscellaneous clumps, elongated or oblique, near Twopence Spring are also near Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire. One clump is incidental enough not to appear on the map except as a reservoir. 
Palefield Coppice lies to the north of Old Manor Farm, Haseley, in Warwickshire, and approximates to an inverted T with a footpath passing through the stem of the upright.
Coronation Spinney (though based more exactly on the adjacent Sixteen Acre Wood) is also in Warwickshire among the outlying woods of Berkswell Hall. Not in fact surrounded by wheat prairies but with fields large enough to offer that sense of open grain, except where some nondescript grassland survives.
Wotton Hill Clump, a nineteenth-century commemorative walled knot of pines now reduced to nine surviving trees, is beside the Cotswold Way where it descends from Westridge to Wotton-under-Edge.

Book (publishers webpage) with downloadable sample
Interview (very abstract)
Review (short - with photograph of the landscape)
Review (of other poems - long)
Review (of a more recent book of poems)
Book (book)
Extract from book (short)
Extract from book (longer)

1 comment:

  1. This is also interesting: