Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review: The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

This is a really slim volume, just fifty pages and it's light, simple, deep, elegant, intriguing. It's very much about the place of things, in time, space, nature, imagination.

I'm really interested in her "Five Tay Sonnets" sequence which seem to be partly an exploration into how far you can stretch and bend a poetic form before it becomes something else. It feels like she built around the sonnet form rather than within it, like she used it as a  starting framework and then grew her poetry organicly and wild around it. Which absolutely suits the contents of the sequence as it is about the ebb and flow and intertwining of relationships between humans and nature

Lots of these poems are an exploration and discusion of a sense of self in space and time in relation to the place of other things and how that sense of self changes and shifts such as in Fragment 1
"so how can you tell
  What form I take?

What form I take
  I scarcely know myself

adrift in a wood
 in wintertime at dusk"
 Fragment 2

"Imagine we could begin
all over again; begin

afresh, like this February                                                  
dawn light....

...we could mend

whatever we heard fracture:
splintering of wood, a birds

cry over still water, a sound
only reaching us now"

 And Hawk and Shadow

"Being out of sorts
with my so-called soul,
part unhooked hawk,
part shadow on parole,"

The theme of time runs subtly but consistently throughout this collection, months and seasons and cycles, dawns, dusk, moonlight, tide changes, the brief, beautiful, and seemingly inconsequential life of flowers,  a description of an excavation to unearth a bronze age boat
The mix of Scots and English is interesting and while natural for a poet who comes from Scotland  it brings up issues of language accessibility and who language belongs to and whether the things said in that language only really belong to the speakers of that language,   The reader who only speaks English will bring their assumptions that majority language speakers have the right to be able to read things in their own language. the expectation that minority language speakers who also speak a majority language should make their writings accessible, especially if that language/dialect is spoken by a minority because of colonisation.

This is a beautifully layered book, on one level a beautiful sequence of descriptions of the Scottish landscape  but it opens up and out to layers of mediations on the self and nature and the boundaries and connections between them. The simplicity of the language used leaves space for the words to flow and become liminal, luminous, breathtaking, while at the same time letting the descriptions become concrete and tangible.

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