I have in front of me two poetry collections entitled Armour. The first one I got was John Kinsella’s Armour from the end of last year. It was the PBS Choice for Winter 2011, beating Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees which was merely ‘recommended’. The second is Christy Ducker’s fantastic pamphlet from Smith/Doorstop, which you can buy from inpress for a mere fiver. Please do stick around for this one, I’ll get to it at the bottom.
I didn’t think much of Kinsella’s book when I first got it, having received four books in one go (I’d let my membership lapse, but when I came to finally renew I asked to be brought up to date with what I’d missed. I don’t like missing out) and instead glutted on the alliterative action in Simon Armitage’s The Death of King Arthur, David Harsent’s Night, and some Sean O’Brien. I’d already, at this stage, got The Bees, and preferred it by far. As a bit of a Duffy fangirl, this shouldn’t really be a surprise.
In all honesty, I suspect that the main thing going against Kinsella here is the way my particular copy of the book is bound. It’s so tight and heavy, that when I try to hold it and read it, the covers are squeezing together, pushing me out. I feel like I have to fight to read it. I don’t want to fight to read it.
Interestingly, while the book’s cover says that Kinsella is here writing his ‘most spiritual work to date’ and his ‘most politically engaged’, ‘poetry of lyric protest’, a work of ‘sharp ecological and social critique’. When I’ve picked it up I’ve read about weather, animals and the Australian outback. Kinsella says he considers himself an ‘in situ’ poet, ‘even if I’m writing about a piece of art, it’s done in the context of what I am physically experiencing at the time of writing. [...] I write from the rural world.’ It would seem that I agree with him. He does, however, reject the idea of ‘nature writing’ (as indeed I’ve claimed that I don’t like that kind of thing either), saying when interviewed “I detest ‘nature writing’. I consider myself a writer of the environment – an ethically and politically motivated writer who perceives each poem, each text I write, as part of a resistance against environmental damage.”
Here is a poem from Kinsella’s Armour which feels quite apt in this odd paradoxical time of flood warnings and drought.
The ground, a gullet, swallows the rain
quick-fire, quick-smart; thirsty as a blank calendar –
never ticked off, days running into each other.
The ground drinks as if it can hold its liquor, drain
gigalitre on gigalitre, a gutful. The cup
runneth over, God knows where, the streams,
creeks and rivers stay bone-dry: rain poured into seams
of sand, rock, clay; poured through lips
of granite, bristles of the long-gone. Dead sheep
don’t drink much, though carcasses
swell, fleeces coagulate: what passes
as comi-tragic when a dry runs deep.
Water resounds like stock epithets, strains
at our neglected gutters – tomorrow
score-marks of run-off, potholes dusty hollows:
the ground, a gullet, swallows the rain.
Christy Ducker’s pamphlet presents me with a bit of a challenge. What on earth to share?! As a small pamphlet there’s not much space for extended sequences, so I’m quite relaxed about typing any of it up. It’s just that I particularly like, well, pretty much all of it.
In some ways, I don’t really want to tell you much about it – just that you should go and buy it. Less than 24p per poem. Bargain!
Ladybirds, historical grudges, boobs, language, travel, heritage, nesting, drystone walling – a very diverse collection. Tender and funny and startling and lovely by turns.
You will know why I chose this one though.
suddenly you are here
and I am astonished
by the way you smell of bloody bread
and the way you already decide
to place a webbed fist here,
to slow-wing a newt’s eye there.
I am astonished that you are purple.
And now I know glee
at the indignant heaving bellows of your belly,
your self-startled arms flung wide proclaiming
your tiny chimp gums.
And I watch to see time
measured by your face,
crane as you push each new word through glottal air.
I thrill because you’re not like me
but you and young and other.