Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Robin Robertson, _Swithering_

THEY HAIL FROM four different countries, but somehow Robin Robertson (Scotland) calls to my mind Ted Hughes (England), Seamus Heaney (Northern Ireland),and Les Murray (Australia). The sound is crunchily consonantal, the texture loamy, the mood rural or at least out of doors, the memory yet green of the heavy wooden furniture of the grandparents and the smells of animals.

In "Entry," a Heaneyesque buzzard ("the slung bolt of her body / balanced in the wind / by wings and tail") lands on and devours a rabbit's corpse with Hughesian relish:

The wounds feather through him
throwing a fine mist of incarnation,
annunciation in the fletched field,
and she breaks in,
flips the latches
of the back, opens the red drawer
in his chest, ransacking the heart.

Hughesian, too, methinks, Robertson's poems on Actaeon's death ("the whole pack, thick with bloodlust, / flowed over the rocks and crags, over the trackless cliffs"), and Heaneyesque his animal poems, like "The Eel":

-- a dart of light, loosed
through the chestnut trees
ignites her glimmer, her muscle,
there in the dead pools
in the pleated grooves that stream the sides
of the Appenines down to Romagna [...]

The Murray note? Perhaps this, from "Swimming in the Woods":

Her long body in the spangled shade of the wood
was a swimmer moving through a pool:
fractal, finned by leaf and light;
the loose plates of lozenge and rhombus
wobbling coins of sunlight.

So what is the Robertson note? Hmm, dunno. I feel like reading more even though he keeps reminding me of other poets (poets I like, though, so maybe that's it). But there's something not at all like Hughes, Heaney, or Murray in this very short poem contemplating an adolescent girl (a daughter, I think, but I may be projecting):


The child's skip
still there in the walk,
A woman's poise in her slow
of the brightly coloured globe, this
toy of the world.
Is there anything
more heartbreaking than hope?

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