Last year Carcanet published The Threadbare Coat: Selected Poems by Thomas A. Clark, a writer I have often referred to on this blog. There is an introduction by Matthew Welton that briefly discusses the poems' language and formal properties. He notes, for example, the repetition of words from poem to poem: 'the hills, clouds and water give us a sense of where we are in the landscape. And the mentions of nothingness, aloneness and longing, say something of what we can expect from territory of this kind.' He suggests that the 'reuse of a limited vocabulary across a range of poems feels appropriate to the landscapes that are the focus of these poems.' These places are only occasionally identified but it is clear that we are reading about the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Perhaps some of the poems are about the idea of this landscape rather than anything more specific - 'the quiet island', for example, is like a parable where the narrator finds peace but misses the melody of events, and so one morning, quietly leaves.
I could mention several of the book's landscape poem sequences but will just highlight one here. 'a walk in a water meadow' suggests that we will be given a series of ambulatory observations, but in the first stanza, a gentle mist closes in. This mist dampens sound and detaches objects from their context. The walker attends to the world in a different way: as places disclose themselves, vision is both impaired and repaired. The water meadow takes on the forms of mist: fine webs, cotton-grass and cuckoo-spit, alders wrapped in wool and skeins of mist snagged on larch. A walk in mist, he concludes, 'makes no progress / history is suspended / resolve dissolves.' History feels suspended in almost all of these poems, which offer the chance to concentrate on timeless phenomena: dusk and dawn, wind and waves, raindrops in a pool, light falling on a leaf, water flowing over roots and stones.
There is a YouTube clip where Tom introduces the book and reads 'the quiet island'. I have embedded it below and transcribed here what he says about the Highlands and Islands:
'These are landscapes of great clarity and resilience; they often have a surprising gentleness - all qualities that I want to percolate into the poetry. But this is not where I live. I live on the east coast, above Edinburgh. So I'm always at some distance from the landscapes I write about. No doubt this distance sharpens desire. I always want to head out into the Highlands. Somehow I feel more relaxed there than anywhere else. I seem to be more responsive and resourceful than anywhere else. It's as if a whole set of cultural accretions has fallen away, or more likely, blown away. And this is one sense of The Threadbare Coat, the title of this new book from Carcanet Press. It's an image of poverty and exposure, as if there could be only the lightest membrane between you and the landscape.'