Monday, November 16, 2009

The Hundred Thousand Places

The Hundred Thousand Places was another purchase at the Small Publishers Fair.  It begins in the morning at the start of a walk, by the edge of the sea, in mist and uncertainty.  In this it reminds me of an earlier collection of Clark's poems, Distance and Proximity, published by Alec Finlay's Pocket Books, which starts with a sequence 'In Praise of Walking' ('Early one morning, any morning, we can set out, with the least possible baggage, and discover the world...') and then a second sequence 'On Looking at the Sea.'  In this new book, the walker (addressed as "you") journeys over the Scottish landscape, evoked in simple pared-down verses through the names of plants (asphodel, milkwort, crushed water-mint), the movement of wind and water, and the passing impressions of the land's contours and colours.  Eventually the walker returns to the sea, where 'a figure is seen standing at the tide's edge', like a solitary wanderer in a Friedrich painting, who may be the artist or may be oneself.

The Guardian's review by David Wheatley refers to James Joyce and William Wordsworth and concludes: 'The Hundred Thousand Places stands at a tentative and oblique angle to the more established modes of pastoral writing. There is a beautiful moment in George Oppen's "Psalm" when he exclaims of some deer, "That they are there!", and the fact of the natural world's being there at all supersedes the need for description. There is plenty of description in these poems, but they too converge on a place of revelation whose name is simply "there".'

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