Saturday, 27 September 2008

Anne Stevenson




Last year I bought, on impulse, a beautifully-printed volume of poetry by Anne Stevenson, A Lament for the Makers. She's not a poet I've come across before, but something in the first two sections of this long poem pulled me up and made my chest go tight.

Trying to describe a long, intricate and often extremely beautiful poem in a brief article is a mug's game. It is a kind of Dante-esque journey through the underworld of the poets, at once heart-broken and resigned. Recollections of Dante and other medieval poets abound, especially in the use of supple three-line stanzas that echo terza rima. Though the ventiloquized voices of numerous poets - Peter Redgrove, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Virgil, Hugh McDiamid - swirl through the poem, there is no consolation for death in the power of art to be found here. Like Anne Carson's work, the poetry remains bleak and comfortless, for all its learning and its beauty.

Stevenson has a great lyric gift, and some sections of this poem are amongst the best writing I've read in the past twelve months. Here are the two lyrics which open the A Lament for the Makers.

I

Unsatisfied by summer,
memory hardly anticipates
the darkening year.

But now it's here,
the season of deciduous souls,
gold smouldering to umber

when the sun illuminates
briefly that reredos of beeches
with Byzantine fire.

A last, late finger of grace
still brightens far reaches
of a barbarous empire

lyrically and lovingly.
Most of what we write
time will erase.



II

Try to remember
how the weather of before
emancipated the leaves.

'O wild west wind' is layered
thick with voices.
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs.

In wrothe winde leves
Laucen fro the linde
And lighten on the grounde.

De ramis cadunt folia
nam viror totus periit,
iam calor liquid omni . . .


The same and more.
Most of what our bones know
has been said before.



A Lament for the Makers is published by Clutag Press, Thame, in a limited edition of 200 copies.

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