ESTILL POLLOCK: BLACKWATER QUARTET
11 Garden Farm
ISBN 0 9548376 6 5
ESTILL POLLOCK: AVAILABLE LIGHT
Glan yr Afon
ISBN 978 1 905614 06 6
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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.
|ESTILL POLLOCK: BLACKWATER QUARTET|
Over 300 pages of poetry collected from the period 1974-2004. The selection is divided into four books, with each book divided into a number of parts. This is pretty intense, powerful stuff, with many of the poems quite lengthy. LEAVE OF ABSENCE exhibits Estill Pollock's style, with detail upon detail filling in the mosaic of scene or image:
Windows wide, the faded chintz flaps in upward draughts, hugs Elizabethan brick. An old quilt airs across the cill and pantiles, hints of spring as April clears late mists though winter chill persists until mid-morning. The rugs are beaten on the line, dust in bursts sailing over hedgerows where startled birds combust.Estill Pollock, an American, has been living in England since 1981. INDIAN SUMMER is an American-based piece rich in recollection, a verdant accumulation of imagery of how he remembers things were:
That August, I walked along the clatter of cornstalks, kicking through the furrow rows for flints. I stopped, stooped within the tatter of river meadow ploughed to suit the crows, examining my finds: the arrow tips translucent — those serrated roes felt ripping pelt and heart wall — hand-tooled chips I polished, held to light recalling rites lost centuries.Often poems contain philosophical asides, or observations on life provoked by preceding images or scenes, again as in INDIAN SUMMER:
Our lives are kites of clouds the wind drives out along the air around us, template for the arrows' flights.Many poems deal with memory, or the evocation of the past coloured, and to some extent devalued, by the present's hue of regret:
For thirty years the two returned to summer on the lakes. The road from Florence was the same, and the villages little changed. Across the old town to the shore, views from favourite rooms remained true to sunny postcard photographs.EMBLEM HEART deals with the changing, whirling perspectives both of life and the seasons:
Such memories distract. The glassy pond is crazed and the world swims through its own distortions, is torn and changed as landscapes change, climates circle, and the generations are achieved. We are reconciled to cold, to water's suppleness suspended.Many of the poems reach out from the particular to the universal (and vice versa), as shown in this beautiful image from MERIDIAN:
The universe dismembers a billion stars, still light leaks outwards first and last. The sun's instructions to the leaf extend the shade at noon. This is the sound of our next breath.THE TEMPERED SKY fuses passing time and regret with the nature, feel and look of the universe itself:
The artefact of all our futures gains midheaven: overhead, the comet's wedge instructs us in regret, a swordsweep flash and frenzy of lost time, of worlds that pass.WEAPONS LORE is a poem inspired by a photograph of the poet's father taken in North Africa in 1943:
The likeness is my father's, the argument mine. Flemish-bond brickwork, old buildings in the Federal style, May wine and madrigals: the causes we die for return with the personal effects, preserved in photographs, discovered in hometowns row upon row, sweeter than rivers or marjoram needles, as impartial as sunlight on date palm and laurel.Images of time and space, and the frailty of our hold on them, recur throughout, as in PENDRAGON:
There are stars to wish upon, and stars to keep our love songs honest, but when the stars in the window pane have gone and these wilderness endeavours fade, will nothing else remain as rule or symbol of the world we made?In FORTUNATE ASPECTS, Estill Pollock recalls his past in England, also with the same distinctive mix of detail and a certain filminess of style and tone:
We walked in chill October. The girls were little still, peering down through pier decking, watching waves sling dirty spray.Ultimately the world-view of the poems is gloomy, constantly looking back on the past with a sense of loss and despair:
A degree of uncertainty separates the present from the past. The dead appear in my mirror. More and more they insist on answers.He is not immune from plain old pessimism, as in PLAINSONG:
Our lives go by to nowhere, quick as hawk stoop or a shunted current earthedLOCAL SPIRITS also expresses this glum approach in succinct, chiselled fashion:
The life we lived is past. Each spasm treat and bagged-quail flutter focuses the mind on whatever else remains.Indicative of Estill Pollock's preoccupation with the past, other poems evoke historical times and events, whether aerial combat in World War Two, Pompeii, Byzantium or the Wright Brothers' first flight. There is a long poem, LETTERS FROM THE EARTH, dealing with episodes from the American Civil War, written very simply and (naturally) letter-like as if by one of the combatants. A poem such as SECONDS OF ARCS presents a series of vignettes ranging, for example, from Shelley's death in 1822 to eighteenth-century China to Lindisfarne in 633 AD to Oxford in 1932. A few other poems are in the style, or evocative of writers such as Juvenal, Pablo Neruda, Bertolt Brecht, Rilke, Rimbaud, even the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and so on. There is also a series of poems inspired by a Duke Ellington album released in 1957, itself a montage based on Shakespeare characters.
Even if at times the poetry in this collection is just a little too over-egged into linguistic complexity, and the selection itself could have been pared down somewhat, with some rather rambling stuff reserved for the end of the book which seems to me a poetic breakdown of his style and form into the minutiae of his mind's obsessions, this is certainly deep and powerful work, not to be missed.
|reviewer: Alan Hardy.|
|ESTILL POLLOCK: AVAILABLE LIGHT|
Another collection from Pollock reinforces past review evidence of the power of his poetry, still coming after the marathon BLACKWATER QUARTET two years earlier. Of more modest length, this collection is sectioned into I. STUDIES IN CAESURA, II. AN ALMANAC OF DEEPER DREAMS, III. RESURRECTION SUITE.
Pollock is no fun read, lack of humour touched with pessimism pervades, which perhaps adds to line strength and the message that he is not playing around. Indeed, the messages of some of his subjects are vitally serious to future generations. The first section starts grimly with A FORWARD POSITION:
A man whose children were dead,said this country's a puppet with cut stringsfollowed by GROUND ZERO depicting the horrors of 9/11, and LAST DAYS OF ISHMAEL, previously published re the story of Ahab and the whale, which reads as the memory of Ishmael, of Ahab being dragged down to whale-doom.
... the scald-pot seas red as a cut heart, that day ... a shadow spooling fathoms, surfacing through iron spears, its white flukes trimmed to sounding cold for Ahab: his last breathThe CAESURA section also accommodates a variety of approaches in poems, including ON GRAFTON STREET — a Dublin episode of a visit to Yeats long before Pollock; and GRENDEL AND THE SLAYER, the tale of Beowulf's heroism. From the latter, ending:
Blood washes the world. The poem that told it slips from the harp and scurries, rat-like through rotten straw. In the hall, in high rafters, a pet hawk, stirring, keens its yellow eye.Pollock's narrative skills are fine. However, its a termination of Grendel,like Ahab or horrific losses in GROUND ZERO. Hardly even a figurative caesura in time and space, unless I have missed a point the poet wishes to make.
The biographical nature of AN ALMANAC OF DEEPEST DREAMS allows some poems to cluster and reinforce the section better. The note is lighter, the technical skill much in evidence, perhaps more telling when the cut-off to death is in memory. From A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY:
Seasons are lent, a month in mind restored in a dynamic of memory. The trellis of roses sheltered the view to the cemetery lane. Climbing through another summer, those bright reds were Mother's favourites, their scent fresh still, as here, circling and circling, this hallmark binding flesh.RESURRECTION SUITE, in three sections,is Pollock's adapted version of the story of the Chernobyl disaster from the translation of the work of Lyobov Sirota published in the late 1980s, she herself suffering, with her son, from radiation exposure, Pollock narrates it in between the italicised poetry, filling us in with the horrors and errors made, leading to the worst global diaster and total abandonment of Pripyat and its surrounds. Re the poetry and narration, how much is literal Sirota and how much Pollock does not really matter as the intention (I hope) is to remind and stir a future audience. There's a need to read this version of Pollock — more important than a desire to read.
A gamma burst whitens flowers, a mystery brightness surrounding bitter colours in quiet lanes. The gag of fruit ripens too early,plump poisons. One taste to send us to the wards.Most poems exhibit the same forceful imagery, the only quarrel appears in the logistics of placing poems to fit section I.
|reviewer: Eric Ratcliffe.|