Friday, January 18, 2008

A taste of 'Scattering Eva'

I seem to be experiencing a windfall in great poetry books at the moment. I recently ordered James Sheard's Scattering Eva which is a breath-taking collection of poems.
The blurb on the sleeve says -

"...James Sheard takes on the subject of the individual in European history...the speakers of his poems brag, explain, confess, resign, but are always human in their concerns. What emerges is a series of poems like skeletal mechanisms, set ticking at those moments when his characters connect, however briefly or tangentially, with the forces that surround them".

This is poetry as I love it best: thick with imagery, and every line pared down to the minimum so every word used is necessary and intensly loaded.
European history becomes richly exotic where 'Old money smells of civet' and 'Its women oil pearls at nut-meg throats'. The astonishing impact Sheard attains in a single line reminds me of Plath. In his poem At Konstanz Sheard writes 'In the lock of land and heat / my thoughts drone slow as Zeppelins'.
It's taking me a while to read through the collection simply because each line of a poem sets my mind adrift into unfamiliar, rich landscapes.
Some more tasters from the poems - from Heading for Port Bou, 1939 'Behind us, Barcelona had broken open / like an egg, leaking poisons and rumour'. From The No-Sayer "the ward's flowerbruised brightness, / the slow blossoms /of hurt'. From Writing History 'Old towns laid with herringbone / drag our feet onwards, back'.
And finally from the poem Duet which is part of the Scattering Eva sequence which takes up the second half of the collection -

'Sometimes you would weave me
in crossing spotlight.
I would crawl in webbing,
in uptorn shrubs.

Later, I'd watch your ribs
rise and fall - sandbars
in a sloping tide.'

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone and so would Sean O'Brien, recent winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, who wrote a raving review of it on the back cover.


Dick said...

An intriguing taster. Thanks, sorlil. I'll search further.

swiss said...

don't know about this -'flowerbruised wards' makes my skin creep and 'blossoms of hurt' sounds like it should be on the hallmark channel.
i'm unconvinced by the sound of sean o'brien's review. given that sheard sayd he's his doctoral supervisor i'm guessing somewhat of a conflict of interest? or maybe i'm just feeling ill disposed to o'brien at the moment as i'mnot enjoying his downriver

still each to their own. will keep an eye out for it and let you know...

Sorlil said...

my my so cynical! :) Perhaps I haven't best represented the poems but really they are very well written and packed with startling images, however each to their own as you said! I can't possibly comment on O'briens work because I've not yet read any of it, but I intend to remedy that!

swiss said...

i'm just done with downriver and i've found it a bit upsetting. plus he's got bits of the drowned book in it which seems like cheating! i'll be interested to see what you think when you get to him

and i will reserve judgement on sheard till i get to read him. there'd be no point in poetry if we all like the same things!

i'm sitting with soirbheas open trying to communicate what i like and instead of those glutinous images i see stuff like wantonness on p37 had gaily spent me
than that i had scrimped on life

i read lines like these and i feel a sort of truth. maybe i'll start chanting! lol

Sorlil said...

there seems to be a lot of mixed feelings about o'brien's work (esp on winning the ts eliot) that I'm interested in finding out what all the fuss is about!

on images in soirbheas I particularly love the second stanza of The Pillar-box (p157)

But my heart is still
like the pillar-box through the night -
unseen, red-raw,
full of undeliverable messages.

when I read Wantoness I thought of making it my new year's resolution!

swiss said...

while i was looking at sheard's blog i saw the thing about his problem with his lines

When next you pass through beeches, think:
These are old lovers; this how I left them.

fancy doing something with these?over the course of the next week say? you've been reading enough! i'll trade you results

Sorlil said...

good idea, an exercise is just what I need!

swiss said...

sounds fair.have uni work to finish and may be ceilidhing in your neck of the woods at the weekend so next wednesday as the deadline okay?

Sorlil said...

yep ok, argh the pressure's on!

swiss said...

i have a feeling you'll be wanting to leave those lines as they are. i may be wrong...

i feel i'll probably make them different.