Published by Greenwich Exchange. 2017
978 1910996133 paperback. £12.99
175 pp plus approx 10pp for notes and a single index of titles and first lines (115 poems)
The Contents page lists the order of the poems, after the introduction but in an ideal way, for me. It gives the collection title from which the poems come followed by the selected poems and page numbers. The collections are in date order of publication. Additional to this, in the text itself are (break-point) pages stating ‘Poems of the 30s; 40s’, 50s and 60s, etc. Which means you can catch a glimpse of the decades in which the poems were written. If like me you need a visual reminder you can annotate the poems as such.
Though this is creeping towards the fact that I would prefer all poems to have their date of origination included on the page….. yes, I know the system would go into overload if the poem was fiddled with or re-written over time/years. However this ties into more knots if you consider any interventions by editors, peers, who suggest changes….. Basic origination date is at least a start. The point is that I congratulate John Greening on this style of presentation. If it points out my lack of knowledge on contemporary publishing……sorry!
I have read Grigson as a reviewer, author, on John Clare in particular and editor of anthologies.. I admit to being aware of his poetry although have never read a collection! That’s a sad admission to make but having made that grave mistake I feel obliged to make amends by waving this book around at poetry events. Thanks to John Greening for sparking my enthusiasm.
The brief biographical details present him as a Cornishman, a cleric for a father; six brothers, all of whom died before he himself was middle-aged. Three marriages and a love of France, and Europe but thoroughly English: Cornish. He wrote poetry throughout his long writing career of mixing and working in the literary and artistic world.
His early poetry, designated ’30s & 40s’, seems aligned to the lyrical and rhyme. Exceptions allowed. He writes of people, himself included, though a greater content focuses on elements of landscape, flora and fauna. From the start of the ‘70s & 80s’ period the subjects still cover the range though the rhyming becomes more spare. A change in his attitude or a nod to the times? Whatever, he never loses his themes or characteristic style. Later poems show his rhyming becoming audible again but less regulated. Am I daring to say this? It’s varying his rhyme-schemes over time, that’s all.
I can say his language is almost always spare and skillful. The words are crystal clear, a pulsating vocabulary and nothing wasted, each one selected carefully. Any excisions will have already made by Grigson himself, if indeed he had to make any! Aspects of ‘love’ abound along with angled observations of people, birds, beasts and the physicality of landscape, rock and even the air.
We find numerous poems as translations or references to other poets and the Classics. I do find it quite satisfying to believe these poems were pursued by Grigson as an antidote to his work as critic, author and anthologist. Pleasing too, to see a poem each for John Clare and Ivor Gurney included.
One of my favourite poems here…..but must be read after these two poems, The Critics and Colours: is ……. Another Poem in Briefest Prose. Interesting variations in another set: Rock, Sea, Water, Fire, Air. Others, out of book-order: The Gas Fire, The Paper in the Rain. Figgins: Variations in temperament and of course religion slip in, or is it out, in various decades.
I could also offer: Swallows, and Death of a Farmyard. (Mortality is a strong theme but then often is. Grigson has strong reasons)
Birth of Criticism, followed by Annotation, and Concert in the High Church, three in a row that Greening has chosen for us.
Many of his poems seem to be picking away at the surface, pointing out at that which we must find for ourselves. Seem to be pointing to where we should look, answers not offered but obliging readers to look a little deeper into the words, and ourselves.
I think of him as seeming full-blooded, not taking fools gladly, and as they leave, behind his sleeve, chuckling at his feigned dishumour. Despite the fact he died over 30 years ago his poetry is still vigorous, descriptive and informative, a sign for me of a poet who will remain a force to be reckoned with.
Boringly I should add that I deliberately did not read the ‘Notes’ until after writing this review. A silly principle, perhaps….however, I have to add that they offer insights worth reading to the placing (action) of those poems.
Finally, the last two poems in this selection: The Dipper, short but memorable, seen with a still clear poet-s eye.
Staring down from that broken, one-arched bridge,
In that vale of water-mint, saint, lead-mine an Madge,
I was amazed by that fat black-and-white water bird
Hunting under threat, not at all disturbed.
How could I tell that what I saw then and there
Would live for me still in my eightieth year?
(From Selected Poems, Geoffrey Grigson, edited by John Greening, published by Greenwich Exchange)
the selection ends on his last poem: The Last Poem, mixing youth and old age as a continuum.
Geoffrey Grigson, a striking example of a powerful (Cornish) poet whose work spanned half a century or more. This book is a blessing to poetry and his memory.