Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Two Poems

I've got two new poems, Uchronie and Variations On A Theme By J A Baker, over at the glorious treasure trove of poetry and criticism that is Gists & Piths.

J A Baker, for those who aren't familiar with the name, was a librarian who wrote a book, The Peregrine, that still stands in a class of its own where nature writing is concerned. Published in 1967, it's pretty much an extended prose poem on the Essex coastal landscape, the British winter (remember that?), obsession, and of course the birds of the title. Robert Macfarlane's piece on it here pretty much says it all, really, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

The book is still available, either by ordering that NYRB version on Amazon, or by scouring secondhand bookshops for the original or the various later editions that followed in the late 60s and 70s. Baker did write a follow-up, The Hill Of Summer, and while it's not at all bad, it doesn't really live up to the expectations created by his masterpiece.


The Editors said...

Hi Matt,

I loved your Baker variations (though that's obviously a given, seeing as I just published them, but I thought it was worth restating). It's strange that The Hill of Summer doesn't quite match up. To my mind, it's a matter of intensity. The Peregrine is about just that, the peregrine (clue's in the title), almost monomanaical in its determination to doggedly keep on its subject throughout. It never wavers. The Hill of Summer is more closely akin to a series of geographically related essays, and doesn't have the cumulative force of The Peregrine as a result. With The Hill..., the intensity seems to have been concentrated into occasional singular moments (there's a description of an ant's nest early on that's quite startling, and shows what Baker can do when he's firing on all cylinders), but with The Peregrine, it felt as though every single word was charged with electricity. The book's almost pagan in that sense, a muscly cantata of sympathetic magic bringing the landscape and its inhabitants to life on the page.

Simon Turner, Gists and Piths

Matt Merritt said...

Hi Simon,
I think that's exactly right - he's raptor-like himself in his very narrow, single-minded focus on his quarry, isn't he? The result is, as you say, incantatory.
When I first read it, I found it so intense that I had to read no more than two or three pages at a time - it's almost physically exhausting.
Thanks very much for the kind comments, and for publishing the poem.