Litter Home Page

 Header image

Steve Spence

Visitor’s Book: Rendlesham Forest (a decomposition) by Peter Dent.

pub. Knives, Forks & Spoons Press   £6.00 (60 pages)

This is something of a departure for Peter Dent as his new collection takes as its starting point the Rendlesham Forest Incident, an apparent UFO sighting close to USA run airbases in Woodbridge/Bentwaters in Suffolk, late in 1980. Although this was a high-profile event (comparable to Roswell in the US) and there were a number of eye-witnesses to a spectrum of unusual phenomena the whole business still seems shrouded in mystery and the possibility of a cover-up related to cold war secrecy intentions on the part of the military. There has never been a satisfactory explanation of the ‘sightings’ as Dent’s ultimate prose section makes clear and there appears to have been a long term avoidance of the subject by ‘the authorities’ occasionally interrupted by vague statements which seem aimed at wiping the occasion from public consciousness. Whether Dent was present at this event or in any other way involved seems unclear but his position as outlined in the prose conclusion seems to be that those who saw what they saw – coloured flashing lights, high speed flying objects close to the ground, an unknown vehicle with ‘metallic like’ exterior, among other things – deserve some sort of objective explanation, if indeed there is one. Events like this, of course, provide fertile ground for all manner of conspiracy theories alongside the genuine questions which have been raised (and largely ignored) by those who were present on the three occasions.

Where does this leave us in relation to Peter Dent’s poetry? Well, leaving aside the possibility of his own involvement (I’ve no idea whether he was there or not) and his clear interest in seeing the case somehow resolved, it could be said that this is a perfect starting point for a writer whose poetry has at its centre the ‘investigation of the strange and puzzling business we call language’. In Dent’s literary world nothing is open to ‘easy access’ and readers who don’t enjoy the process of ‘puzzling over’ or exploring ambiguity, ‘complexity’, or that ‘difficult-to-nail-down aspect of language’ are unlikely to get much from his writing. The underlying question I suppose is one of ‘transparency’ – how clearly can we say what we have to say? and the conflict between language as an aspect of play (a game) and its general definition in terms of ‘delivery of information’ is perhaps central to his whole oeuvre. Dent seems to me a writer who writes primarily for himself, as a form of self-exploration, with no obvious regard for the reader except that he obviously hopes and perhaps expects that there will be some sort of relationship between his ‘words on the page’ and anyone who finds his material interesting or intriguing after an initial encounter. The questions involved in the ‘Rendlesham Forest Incident’ – those of the human reception of strange phenomena and how we are to interpret ‘the outside’ and organise our responses in terms of linguistic understanding – seem to be at the heart of his whole enterprise:


          The Rendlesham Cargo

               ‘I wouldn’t have seen it, if I hadn’t seen it through
               your eyes…’(unnamed observer)

          The flashing                                                   The hard-wired
               of sources                                                      regression

          The delocalised                                              The forest
               circumstance                                                 of clearings

          The cosmic                                                      The misconceptions
               reorderings                                                     of conflux

          The irresponsible                                             The deliria
               specifics                                                           of websites

          The interdictions                                              The Cold War
               of defence                                                         rictus

          The uninitialled                                                  The debris
               transcripts                                                          of falling  

          The roswellian                                                     The unresolvable
               interference                                                          depressions

          The tremblings                                                     The bright lights
               of analysis                                                            of other


This final poem, unusually ordered in two-column couplets could present a series of chapter headings for the entire collection. It could be that this short book represents a more concrete collision with the ‘real world’ than anything I’ve come across by Peter Dent before and it’s certainly a more ‘uncomfortable read’ than his previous work, at least in my view, and not for reasons that I think I’ve entirely put my finger on. I continue to be intrigued by his writing and it’s fascinating if slightly troubling to come across such a divergent manuscript as this.




Copyright © Steve Spence, 2018