Saturday, January 20, 2018

Comfort Levels

Finished Derek Walcott: Collected Poems 1948 - 1984 today, and found myself completely beguiled by the final pieces from Midsummer. I've had this experience before, finding that my appreciation of a poet's work seems to deepen as I move in sequence through his or her works, so that by the end of a volume I get a sense of everything coming together. The poems from Midsummer appear to be bound together by each evoking a distinct sense of place through which the poet's frequent concerns about race, empire, cruelty and whatnot wind insidiously, resonantly, usually painfully. The double whammy of XXXIX / The grey English road hissed emptily under the tires... followed by XLI / The camps hold their distance - brown chestnuts and grey smoke... stunned me, as did several other juxtapositions. But then I realised the original sequence could not have had the poems adjacent to each other, which made me keen to get hold of the actual collection. This Collected actually isn't, of course.

After closing the volume I immediately went to pick up Collected Poems: James Merrill. I've come to realise I have to have poetry in my life, and I mean the on-going discovery of such. The Merrill Collected really is one, I think. I bought it after reading his brilliant sort-of-long-narrative poem The Changing Light at Sandover some years back - I think around 2002 - but have never really done it justice. Oddly enough the first poem in the volume, The Black Swan, which is one of Merrill's earliest, from a privately printed volume, hit me with the force of the best poems from Midsummer. It seemed fully-achieved, somehow, absolutely right. Maybe I'm still on a kind of high from what I've learned from reading Walcott?

And, related to a different kind of reading entirely, I also found myself plodding on with Volume 2 of the Penguin Le Morte D'Arthur. I don't know how this happened, but I seem to have got comfortable with reading Malory, even though I'm still not sure why I'm doing so.

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