Greater or Less Movement

, Gillian Allnutt (71pp, Bloodaxe)

Some of the poems, like the book itself, have wholly lower case titles, and those poems have no upper case at all. Punctuation is sparse in all the poems or appears so. Sometimes it's the single sentence stretched over several or more lines that exaggerate this visually, as well as the whole openness, sometimes there is an interspersing of reference; all the poems have double or more spaces between the lines. Many of the poems have footnotes. Her most recent previous book, 'How the bicycle shone', a new and selected, was 2007: nothing she has published has seemed rushed, as now this new book seems not.

Place and/or people are often vital to what is present or recalled ('In the Botanic Gardens, Oxford', 'In Armenia', 'in her kitchen', 'Morning Room', 'Scarecrow winter') the title often, as it were, the pausing point, the poem then sparse and fragile. Often a poem will begin by location or subject, to follow-through quite differently. Here is the whole of 'Coronation':

   By and by, the balustrade.

   We waited quietly for the Queen who wasn't there, whose car -

   The moon of alabaster.

   Light of men

   that lay across her throat, a thwart scar.

   Bitter, the heart's sweet thought of -

   Nothing but

   the gold abyss of God.

   We waited quietly for.

   The flying buttress of the sea, put by.

   Because they have taken away my Lord, and I -

A footnote gives the location and the Biblical reference points. If I bring in here a  second poem, 'my mother, her brother', it is possible perhaps to see the book's greater or lesser movement one way or another between measures of break-up, of either fragmentation or cross-reference:

   as to the husk of her -

   husk, little house -

   who was houselled, here, among fields

   at Thornham Parva -

   death was older

death stood up for her

   death disfigured her

   whose saints were of an earlier -

   delicate, brisk

   as straw

It neither begins nor ends, the spacing as it were makes a play of the poem's being there, being there is at once focussed and ghostly. A footnote of 53 words to the poem's 38 tells us about the 'Thornham Parva Retable, dating from around 1330'.

To say the poems are meditations is too obvious, except that it is worth saying because such writing is rare; one must say more than that, that the way here as a record in poetic form is unique and, for anyone who has read her poems over decades now, the patient development is of something earned by a kind of stealth. I hope not on the way to blank pages of silence, for what is shared here is both beautiful and awkward, it cannot say and it goes some way towards saying.          

Proceeding is by way of undoing. The mystic, Julian of Norwich (died 1416), first occupied Gillian Allnutt's attention years ago, and the final poem in 'Nantucket and the Angel' (1997) might stand for the movement of her poetry from that book to the new one, the title echoing Julian's 'All Shall Be Well' - spoken to her, she said, by God.

   Julian started this or it was 
   that small pot
   from Norwich now with its little arrangement of lungwort,

   which even and all through January flowered
   beneath the house wall,
   Esh, the hill
   and where the pit was, sheltered

   as if by her hand or by the fold of her
   big brown anchorite
   So I imagine, sitting here

   in the sun, knowing
   all shall be well
  and all manner of thing shall be well,
   not writing about that knowing

   and all the arrangements I never made for it.

                David Hart 2013