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Martin Stannard

"When Blue Light Falls" by Carol Watts (86pp, Shearsman, £9.95)

I am sure that during the course of the many years I have been reviewing books of poetry I have once or twice referenced the back cover blurbs most of the books have. They are very often hyperbolic, quite often wildly inaccurate, and sometimes difficult to understand:

     As ‘blue comes on’ in these elegies, a unique genre emerges, a lyrical epic   that speculates on a      world imagined through the physics of blue light, ‘cyanometrics’,      the blue waves of the spectrum,      shorter and faster moving when split from the norm of white light. In this new, formative referential      world of blue, perception changes.

That’s only about one-third of it. And there you were, thinking that a blurb was supposed to make you want to read the book….. I don’t know who the Isobel Armstrong who wrote this  is, but I assume she is not in marketing for a living.

It’s a shame this blurb is so off-putting, because it’s a pretty good book. It’s challenging, but worth taking on. I broke one of my cardinal rules (“Don’t let poetry send you to the dictionary”) and looked up “cyanometrics”, and found that a cyanometer is an instrument for measuring the amount and intensity of blue in light, “as of the sky” (I am quoting the dictionary on my phone). But I’m more inclined to see the blue in this book as related as much to its more everyday association, and indicative of emotion, that of feeling blue, as to the scientifically quantifiable. It’s not like “I wonder how blue the sky is today. Let’s measure it. Have you got the cyanometer?” It’s rather that the connotations of “feeling blue” cannot but influence our reading. “Blue”, whatever it is meant to represent here, colours (if you will pardon the expression) perception and, as the book progresses, event and political/social outlook.

The book is one long piece made up of short poems, organized in four 16-poem sections, each of which alternates between sequences of spaced, open field scatterings to more conventional left-margined poems. Blue, not surprisingly, is everywhere, but it’s not as straightforward as that:

                                         so blue never is

                                         present

 

     

                                                how it marks

     but, on the other hand,

                                         elsewhere    sheen
     of duck eggs

     Uncertainty is established, or perhaps not, very early on:

                                         its darker bruise

                                         the establishing of horses

                                                       or

I will admit that the open field spaced out poems here leave me a little bemused at times, and probably need a longer period of attention than I have yet given them. The more conventional, albeit still “innovative”, poems are a little easier to get a handle on, as they progress initially through something of a personal day and into a night, and then appear to widen out into a world of major event and trauma. The image of flight, initially evoked by birds, is later obliquely rendered as aircraft, in phrases such as “it was downed”; “drones and birds” even get to share a line. The political aspect of a plane’s downing is further evoked by

     its flaming        its shedding of
     lifejackets

 

     as if a market

 

     just rushed by

By this time the language of the poem has become increasingly that of the industrial landscape:

                                         dew chemistries    from
     here such toxicity is

Whether or not this is “a major philosophical poem of our generation” as the blurb writer claims might be another matter, but it’s an interesting work, nonetheless. The language is careful and precise, lyrical but generally sombre. It’s not easy going, by any means, and there is a lot more going on than at first meets the eye and probably more than I have so far picked up on. But for all its sombre and melancholy tone the work ends on what I read as a positive note:

 

                                    I hear you     all my scattered loves

 

                                                                    we are here

                                    what draws us now

     so late
     so late

                                                                                                                        alive

                                    & it comes on
     blue comes on

As much as I often shy away from open field white spaces and what too often seems to be the scattering and random placing of bits and pieces across the page, and despite this particular poem’s difficulties and obliquities, this is a work that repays the close attention it demands.

 

 

 
Copyright © Martin Stannard, 2018