I find I like this new book by Paul Sutherland very much. Engaged by the early poems, enjoying the voice and its thoughtful measured cadences - hardened by a convincing modernism - I'm equally drawn to the longer, more elusive poems, because I trust the voice encountered there.
Whatever their subject - the people, places, and things we meet within experience - these poems speak with subtle but reliable resonance, which lingers beyond their lines, beyond the page, and suggestively beyond the book itself. That is not commonplace in poetry, contemporary or otherwise.
Emotional, geographical and cultural journeys are described here, emphasising the essential openness of each path travelled, its consequent encounterings and temporary engagement; whether that's a few moments on a plane or the ongoing business of lifetimes, families born to and loves achieved. Impressively, his sense of journeying includes a proper awareness that the act of leaving is consequent in its own right:
I once abandoned my father and mother, left thembewildered at their beloved land's failureto hold their child.'Journeying', p.33
There is both a willed and a found sense of seriousness in these poems, and a respect for things discovered in the world, beyond their descriptive usefulness. Objects, people and places are thought about and re-homed for us in imageries which ask us to re-examine the familiar, to re-imagine ordinary things because the language is alive to them in disconcertingly concrete terms. Sutherland recollects a friend's description of walking into a valley as 'like [entering] a vagina' ('Up From the Costal Route', p.51), inviting us to deal with ourselves as much as anything.
The geography covered here is extensive, but his places seem adequately peopled, even the "barren" tundra seen by an English tourist approaching northern Canada ('My Foreign Land', p.13); or, these places are experienced in history or public life sufficiently to make the poems meaningful beyond any superficial picturesque. Landscapes are evoked beautifully, of course, but not fetishised for their own sakes, and the lives borrowed from these journeys seem strangely independent; afforded sufficient respect to continue in their own philosophical worlds beyond any discrete meanings Sutherland has discovered for them. 'Our love will last, won't it?' someone asks, completing nothing ('Hide and Seek', p.79). His willingness to de-romanticise human sexual experience and pick at its serious bones is impressive and, again, refreshingly unusual.
These are quiet poems, but loud with the ongoing music of the everyday, and its background clatter of existential gears turning against the mundane and the ordinary. Proper sense is made and temporary homes inhabited,
as interim earth endsand the unknown of existence begins.'Red Hawthorn-Hedged - XII', p.103
Exactly where that takes us, metaphysical or otherwise, I wouldn't know. While Sutherland himself may have no intimate awareness of the verified beyond, he does explore the present, the contingent, those little histories which have led imperceptibly here, with a sense that surely - with proper openness and inquisition - we can begin to name and therefore share the abiding wonder of a cosmic sense of more; or, at least,
the sacredin-between-ness of here and now.'Red Hawthorn-Hedged - IV', p.88
I was pleased to share these complex and rewarding journeys, and liked very much the worlds found or made here. Fine poems, to be sure. A mature and humane book.
- Tim Neave