Order for £8.54 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Hill of Doors, By Robin Robertson. Picador, £9.99
Tuesday 10 September 2013
Robin Robertson's fifth collection deepens and widens his characteristic territory: one that has become increasingly articulated, yet also more mysterious, from book to book. His profound debt to ballad tradition makes for story-telling poetry, often very beautiful and nearly always concerned with cruelty.
Hill of Doors revisits the classical myth and North Country legends that have been among Robertson's preoccupations since his 1997 debut, A Painted Field. Now, though, less effort is expended on integrating myth with contemporary life. Instead, his versions of the Greek poet Nonnus and passages after Ovid are kept in their original settings. The effect is of a brutal estrangement from the chattering contemporary world: a refusal to dissolve the shocking force of archetype.
Such gathering austerity is of a piece with the mid-career development of a major poet, and it's the opposite of arid. "Wire", an extended sequence of tercets, riffs on the desert spaces of the southern US "Frontera". This "no-man's-land" is busy with "human traces, ghosts", snakes, eagles and coyote, transformed into trickster outlaws. The notorious whirlpool of "Corryvreckan" is described first from sea-level, "the sea's so high it's climbing over itself", then "Seen from above, the tidal race is a long army moving fast", in a poem whose moiling participles "climb over themselves" until the astonishing closing statement: "The opened body of water that today we rode across." The image of the poet as adventurer is a good fit for Robertson, who makes us believe in a world vivid with symbols that it is his job is to broach or master.
This collection includes two stand-out poems. "Under Beinn Ruadhainn" is, like the earlier "At Roane Head", a tale to set your hair on end. In one stunning dream image, the local loch burns, "so full of bairns/ they bobbed to the surface/ with their hair on fire". The book opens with "Annunciation", a brilliantly poised meditation on that moment, and on the paradox of incarnation. Robertson remains an unequalled guide among the shamanistic roots of poetry.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 Prince Harry leaving the armed forced to pursue conservation projects in Africa
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Justin Kelly interview: On James Franco playing a gay man who renounces his homosexuality
Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East