26 March 2015

Poetry Thursday - New Gravity by Robin Robertson

New Gravity by Robin Robertson

Treading through the half-light of ivy
and headstone, I see you in the distance
as I'm telling our daughter
about this place, this whole business: 
a sister about to be born, how a life's new gravity suspends in water. 
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree's jigsaw; 
by your father's grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.

(from A Painted Field, Picador £6.99 - found here)

Robin Robertson (b. 1955) "is a poet of austere and meticulous diction, tempered by a sensuous music". He was brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland but has spent much of his professional life in London. His debut collection A Painted Field appeared in 1997 - and won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. In 2004 Swithering won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. "An astute editor, Robertson also compiled Mortification: Writers' Stories of their Public Shame"; a short interview is here, in which he says "I simply follow lines of enquiry" [see below!] and continues, "Poetry seems to me, initially, an act of curiosity".

Now to the image, which stems from words in the poem but doesn't capture its feeling, quite the opposite. The stone captures the transience of living oak (and all that it represents), bringing it out of a durable material; the poem's moment is captured too, in words, making a surface just as the stonecarver made the surface of this carving in Lincoln Cathedral (found here, with no further information given).

Beyond the poem: 
In the same way that I like to know about the lives of the poets (especially, events in their childhoods that have a bearing on their later lives), it's an interesting exercise to find an image to go with the poem. The most mundane search words can bring up intriguing images and lead one through all sorts of interesting byways. This one sent me into another world, that of cathedral conservation and restoration work - of stonework, sculpture, glazing, and the roofs. Restoration of sculpture in the west front was finished in 2008 - just look at the difference -

To replace an area of stonework: "Templates are taken from the original stones and full size drawings are made. Full size block measurements are sent to our quarry north of Lincoln and sawn on six sides from the rough quarry block. The stone is worked using the templates from the original stones. Archstone, stringcourse, capitals, columns and many other types of stone are worked by hand to an accuracy of 1mm."

Another byway: the history of Lincoln Cathedral. Until 1549 it was the tallest building in the world - then the spire of the central tower (built 1307-11) blew down! Sic transit and all that...

Then, master stonecarvers themselves - it's chance that sends you to certain sites, in this case to the website of Nicholas Fairplay, who shows examples of drawings that are presented to clients, which I find very informative for approaching drawing of stone -
But I digress! If you've read this far, go back and re-read the poem...

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