I bring you news of a new poetry collection from Alice Oswald and I am beyond excited.
We have never forgotten, indeed now feel very privileged to have heard Alice Oswald 'perform' Memorial live and from memory at a little event in Plymouth a few years ago.
'Bookhound is not famed for his love of poetry and may never have been to a poetry reading before, but he gamely said he'd come along and, given that is was a 7pm start, we had agreed that we would sit in the back row and I would nudge him if he looked like he was dropping off, or worse started snoring.
The lights dimmed in the lecture theatre and Alice Oswald, once introduced, leaned forward on the lectern and proceeded to read some short poems...except she didn't have a book..or any words to hand.
We both as of one looked around to see if something was being projected onto the wall behind us..
Surely she wasn't reciting by heart??
Well she was...and she did for the next forty-five minutes.
Short poems and longer extracts from Dart and Memorial and we were completely spell-bound... absolutely no chance of Bookhound falling asleep, he was transfixed.'
Now I have heard poetry 'readings' before but I don't think ever in performance like this, and so it had never occurred to me that there might be a difference, and that it would make the poetry come alive in the way that it did. Alice Oswald's diction is clear and precise, and the pitch and modulation of her voice was of course perfectly attuned to her own writing.
Not all poets manage this... I'm not quite sure how to describe the rather ethereal delivery that I have heard from other poets in the past, where the voice wavers tremulously beyond the normal register, as if to invest some magic but only succeeding in making me want to giggle. Alice Oswald was having none of that; the voice was sure and steady, echoing and gently resonating out of the dim light that didn't illuminate but rather kept her in shadow, and the timing was immaculate, making the gaps and the silences an important part of the whole. Memorial, described as an excavation of Homer's Iliad, and an invocation to the dead of the Trojan wars..
'an attempt to remember people's names and lives without the use of writing; a series of memories and similes laid side by side; an antiphonal account of man in his world.'
And as Alice moved through the succession of final similes in Memorial, leaving an imperceptibly longer gap between each one, we were on the edge of our seats waiting ...
'Like tribes of summer bees
Coming up from he underworld out of a crack in a rock
A billion factory women flying to their flower work
Being born and reborn shimmering over the fields.'
And I cast another quick glance behind me...surely there had to be a screen projecting the words for her, this was truly remarkable.'
The books are never far from my side. I wrote about Weeds and Wildflowers here...
And Dart here...
I'm a proper fan, even took all my books along for Alice Oswald to sign at that event, and I don't do that very often these days. The signing queue seems to have lost its appeal.
'Alice Oswald’s poems are always vivid and distinct, alert and deeply, physically, engaged in the natural world. Mutability – a sense that all matter is unstable in the face of mortality – is at the heart of this new collection and each poem is involved in that drama: the held tension that is embodied life, and life’s losing struggle with the gravity of nature.
Working as before with an ear to the oral tradition, these poems attend to the organic shapes and sounds and momentum of the language as it’s spoken as well as how it’s thought: fresh, fluid and propulsive, but also fragmentary, repetitive. These are poems that are written to be read aloud.
Orpheus and Tithonus appear at the beginning and end of this book, alive in an English landscape, stuck in the clockwork of their own speech, and the Hours – goddesses of the seasons and the natural apportioning of Time – are the presiding figures. The persistent conditions are flux and falling, and the lines are in constant motion: approaching, from daring new angles, our experience of being human, and coalescing into poems of simple, stunning beauty.'
'There's a case to be made that she is our greatest living poet.'
And this too...
'Oswald is a classicist to her bones, just as much as she is a contemporary writer working in the tradition of nature poetry...she brings the characters and textures of antiquity to her work, embedded in the earth and the water of the British countryside....'
I had no idea this collection was imminent so you can imagine me jumping up and down at the Saturday breakfast table over Charlotte Runcie's piece and then hot-footing off to Plymouth first thing on Monday in case someone had an early copy (thank you Waterstones who saved me their last remaining copy)
I'm only on page one and already I am transfixed ...
if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass
to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip
then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience
Charlotte Runcie again...
'In speech her mind is finely geared to the way her words will come out on paper, but you can tell that she writes first by speaking, listening and thinking. When you read Oswald, it's hard to resist imagining how her poem would sound aloud. They expand far beyond paper.'
And it is true, I now automatically read Alice Oswald's poetry aloud to myself in an empty room or the garden.
I am welded to Falling Awake and can see that I am going to love this little volume.
I wonder does this happen to you...a new book arrives that captures your heart and your imagination at the exact moment it was ready for some new words and you actually end up carrying it around everywhere with you...upstairs, downstairs, out shopping in case the car breaks down, to a dinner party in case you get bored...
Or is it just me.