Peter Robinson's latest accomplished collection takes its
title from a short lyric sequence
about spectral memories invading cities and social events, 'like
glimpsing from a tour bus... people you have lost', puzzling refugees from a
Wim Wenders film killing time on the edge of groups of people. 'What do they
come back for?' he asks, but in the end there is only a beachscape and no
easy answers. Other poems patrol cities, seeing them anew: 'January Sales'
envisions an economic apocalypse - 'everything, everything must go' - while
'Impossibilia' and 'Electric Storm' are fine, gritty exercises in weather
description, the former painting a vivid tableau of the junk-shop world:
where the old world was still stored,
repairing from life's main force
daubs, musty tomes, and the worse
pieces to be restored.
In this collection, Robinson seems to be exploring elegiac tones, autumnal,
clouded afternoons with the sky about to break into downpours. Many poems meander
into the past tense of memories recalled, 'Untitled', one of the
strongest, concluding with a
melancholy note of 'the next to last of England', recalling the iconic
painting, but the poet remains on the verge of departure, sniffing the air,
rather than under way. All of this is to my taste, but just occasionally the
rather inert reliance upon description need to be leavened by more variety.
'Paper Work', a quiet family poem, and 'Unpopular Song' a jaunty five-stanza
lyric, are the nearest Robinson comes to this, but even in this latter it is
not long before 'exorcised ghosts' appear. This shouldn't really matter when
a poet is as scrupulous as he is, but somehow it does.
Some of this territory has been explored before in collections like About
Time Too (Carcanet, 2001) and whilst it
is good to see a strong writer doggedly pursuing his interests, there is a
slightly passive, reactive element to many of these new poems which prevents
a totally enthusiastic endorsement of Robinson's many virtues as a poet. Here
are some of them: clean stanza patterns, courageous appropriation of phrases
from Hardy, vivid creation of a sense of place, a refusal to overstay his
poetic welcome... this is a good collection, which I will re-read and enjoy.
It just feels a bit narrow at
© Martin Caseley 2006