A magnificent poetry collection,
This review is from: Onetree Singing (Paperback)
One Tree Singing, by Joan Poulson
My signed copy of Joan Poulson's One Tree Singing is surely one of the most prized possessions in my bookcase, and something I intend to return to, to read again, many times in years to come. The advantage of poetry (over straightforward narrative storytelling) is that it allows for different visual images and interpretations to occur to the reader on each new reading, across the years. That is truer than ever with this book, because Poulson has built such a sparse but rich network of words around her simple central theme: the felling of an ancient oak tree, its place within the landscape before it falls, then the place (through carving into furniture etc) or many places that it takes up within our lives, after the fall. In other words, she considers deeply the place of this emblematic tree, in our consciousness, in human consciousness generally. This tree is therefore a symbol of Nature, and she asks us to ponder our relationship to it.
But I've made this sound like a dry philosophical treatise, and it is nothing of the sort. This is a book full of joy and wonder at the natural world, that captures the delicate mystery of the place we can still hold within that world, if we can just remember how simple we really are. Listen:
"Leaves tease the uneven ground. The air is cracked by gun-fire.
A black dog ranges the edge. Across space and lake the sky melts
to apricot. Clouds become a mountain-range. Wood becomes
Extracts don't really capture it, because part of this book's genius is that it has to be taken as whole, on its own terms, as a kind of revolving prayer wheel around that central tree. But here's another snapshot:
"Echoes of the tree's rich voice.
Bach must have known an oak,
Gave us music of her people in his Cello Suites."
Or this, a description of a wandering gaze, from a medieval feast:
"An eye drops from the boar's head
And is seized and polished,
Pressed between pomegranate breasts."
There's so much I'd like to share here, but the task is impossible. Poulson's wonder at a rag-and-bone man's workshop where he seems about to heal and reconcile all the industrial debris of our cities in some new melancholic alchemy. Her wonder at an old photograph of "gap-toothed boys in caps with ear-flaps./ They're in a Cheshire woodland, stalking/ acorns aeons ago."
Interspersed with pages of Japanese calligraphy and photographs of enigmatic sculptures of leafs and twigs, votive offerings to a falling goddess: this book is a beautiful object to own, whose conception has an honesty and strength that will stand the test of time. But I can't resist ending on two more quotes, the idea that "the air is greened by music. / We only have to listen." And the wonderful image of a pigeon coo-cooing on a chimney stack being "like a woman / who has just made the perfect apple pie".
Joan Poulson has made just such a perfect apple pie. Do have a slice.