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   Jacket 33 — July 2007        link Jacket 33 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Mark Dickinson reviews
Leaves of Field
Open Woods
Moving Woods

by Peter Larkin

116pp. Shearsman Books. Paperback. £8.95 / $15. ISBN-13 9780907562979; ISBN-10 0907562973

This review is about 3 printed pages long.

I’ve been reading Peter Larkin’s work for sometime now - his latest collection ‘Leaves of Field’ is a further offering from this radically attentive, strange yet eclectic writer. As a non-academic, I’ve often wondered what draws me into this dauntingly erudite & scholarly poetry. On the face of it, it is poetry less syntactically abrasive and (front guard) politically radical than some of his peers; the maximal and far-reaching depth wrought out of a tight syntactical space gives the poetry a sheer richness, contrasting the more usual poetic minimalism of fellow poets like Anthony Barnett, Peter Riley and Thomas A. Clark whose work is also radically sourced from the land. Examples of this hard grown lyrical growth are many:

Flammated nodal flash
in wave of brushless fragment right through to
harrowing with rooflengths an earth upto bands

Space in this poetry is filled: for the most it comes in forms of built prosaic lines which are set with only the slightest of margins, leaving only a minimum of absence, but smaller, more lyrically inclined partitions appear to nest within the body of the main text, diversifying the form, but not as rupture or break. The lack of absence is a major factor in the writing - its progression through the page is slow, deliberated, yet energetic; it’s a poetry that walks its way through a philosophical environment and one which renews itself at each turn. But the body of the work has the capacity to move quite deftly at times over the surface of the page – sprung from a slight of foot:

Surf-leaf thirsting to be meant-against by shored
root, that root secondaries might toss over onto
whole-tree reserves: residuum at last is first from
leaf to edit earth insert.

Leaves of Field, can be thought of in terms of an engagement with time and duration; the poetry can be read (perhaps mis-read) as an offering, a granulation to the flow, in the form of a re-vision of the serialized, ruptured or fragmented disarray of a repetitious and pedantic modernism that collapses into a continuing cycle of futile end-games:

Closet space begets high canopies
without a single desire intact: nesting by glazing
free until they dazzle off the rate of opening.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the work is that it makes no decorated compromise by bedding together high and low art forms, or culture for that matter, it has no chic pop value, and makes no claims toward a disenfranchised ‘post-’ anything. On the contrary, it’s full of renewal and a hope, which comes as no mere shot in the dark.

Traditionally speaking, it registers a value to commitment, yet the tradition isn’t stagnating, reflective or draped in the fineries of nostalgia. There is a poise that does not falter to excess, and the emotion is thoughtful and restrained: there is indeed a painstaking rarity at work here - a dedication to poetic craft:

The human tree loathes by its bounds, loans out an
open impress of the woods, typology of a sill it
is all window to.

The ecological imperative within this writing does not overrun itself, or drip into meaningless verbose hyper-speak, littered with technological motifs; it’s far quieter, and all the more impacting for it.

Personally plant trees by rack
forget to cut them down to standing,
woodland steeps hidden in vault
decry domestic at human default

I realize time and the reader is at a premium, but I cannot commend this book enough; difficult and time consuming as it is, it nonetheless returns us to the slow intricacies of place, recouping within its pages the accelerated diminishment of space.

Mark Dickinson was born in Scarborough UK and attended Hull University’s Scarborough campus. His poems have previously appeared in Shearsman, The Gig anthology Onsets, Intercapillary Space and work is forthcoming from The Peek Review. His first collection Littoralwas published by Prest Roots Press in 2007.