on 1 March 2013
So, we have arrived at Robin Robertson's fifth collection in what seems like no time, but a swift comparison of the author photos from A Painted Field (1997) and Hill of Doors (2013) shows a metamorphosis from edgy, slightly scary-looking young man in a t-shirt to eminently respectable-looking, rather resigned gent with receding silver hair and a fetching coat and scarf. The inside front cover would have us believe that these poems contain `a distinct new note' of `the possibility of contentment' - yeah, maybe, the last poem suggests that age may bring new insights into the self, but not much else about these poems brings comfort. A more believable note is struck in `A Quick Death' where the fate of a lobster - or to put it with more genius `a clacking samurai in lacquered plates' - is `the same for us all in the end - /a short journey: eyes first/into the fire'. How admirably the final enjambment holds the tension and increases the horror. The lobster is one of several fish to be harmed in the pages of the book. Robertson regulars will find the usual suspects and motifs: Ovid, Dionysus, Strindberg, his daughters, birds, keys, ghosts. Especially ghosts - and particularly the ghost of lost self, the boy from Scotland who became a `Fugitive in London' `diving/ underground and coming up/like a cormorant, miles downstream'. The key in the last poem is less convincing than the Keys to the Doors offered to the grown daughter who now has to learn that `true life' is knowing that there are no answers to `cruelty and fear,/to age and grief and death'. And throughout there is Robertson's obsession with the evolution of myth, from the first beautiful poem in the book about Fra Angelico's Annunciation, where the description of a winged angel visiting Mary - `the over-shadowing of this girl/by a feathered dark' is so much more suggestive of a Yeatsian rendering of the story of Zeus and Leda, and Dionysus - `Dismembered,/he is resurrected' morphs into Goya's straw man `a loosened Christ, or Judas, or just a man,/falling: the body spilling chaff, some hanks of straw'. There's a wonderful poem `Wire' where the lawless Mexican border becomes a World War 1 nightmare landscape - `These are just fences/and the fences are burning./This is no-man's-land'; one about a heart transplant that was astonishingly real and extending the theme of death and rebirth: `Four hours I'd been away: out of my body./Made to die then jerked back to the world'; and a poem in memory of Jessie Spencer Irvine who wrote the music `Crimond' for the 23rd Psalm, funeral favourite. And listed in Contents on page 78 is `Robertson's Farewell' - blank page. So for me. not much sign of contentment here, but a poet at the top of his game, and still edgy. ( )
on 20 March 2013
A collection of superb poems. Robertson explores the boundary between myth and reality. Sometimes the myths are ancient, sometimes they are personal, but they are always intensely human. His language is superb - rhythmic and glittering - and make the reader aware that at its best, poetry is word music.