I am John Clare. Picnic in my pocket, looking for somewhere to perch but
finding only cattle grids and barbed wire.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
I like that. I hope I quote Larkin to my children one day, like old men quote
at the foot of firs
in unstolen time with
a parting guide.
'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.
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.
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
I do, sometimes, feel like I'm reading a survival manual for an
Suppress tree and attune
a compression of tree
earlier repulse is
grappling with flap across the field entirety's
[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
push a fold of fielding
its hollow towards tokens of horizons? Not
so much a pellicle
between but an intermediate faction
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.
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?'
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