(in Agenda Vols 43, no.4 & 44, no.1: summer/autumn 2008)
Who Can Follow with the Eyes of Sense?
[from title of poem in Hearing Things (2002)] Anne Beresford has been noticed in
various directories and critical journals but seldom accorded detailed critical attention
even for her outstanding recent collections: No Place for Cowards (1998) and Hearing
Things (2002). The 2006 Collected now enables us to appreciate the correlated spiritual
journey of nine major collections from 1967, as well as some notable new poems. Rather
than outline all its complex and varied aspects or assess the work in relation to
contemporary achievements, I will examine some of its intrinsic poetic methods and
qualities. This essentially 'contemplative' poet says in the closing words of her
350 page book that she leaves 'the final sentence to the earth.' Not a sentimental
or hackneyed idea that unregenerate nature has all the answers, but signifying a
consistently 'grounded' outlook, a refusal to have recourse to the esoteric, to cool
detachment or otherworldly wishful thinking. The natural world is constantly acknowledged
in specific terms as an inevitable part of awareness; but it is never given abstruse
or fanciful motivations. As in the prose fiction of Susan Hill, natural phenomena
are intense presences that communicate wordlessly but can never be ignored. In 'Letter
from the Dead' (Landscape with Figures, 1994) the one who revisits offers no illuminations,
only an urgent plea that someone still living should relish the world's vitality
while she can.
The diverse content of the Collected surprises the reader into feeling that human
experience in all its repressed psychic corners, superstitions and its delusive hopes
and ambitions is somehow touched on. Preconceptions of logical exposition and narrative
coherence must be cast aside. The hiatus, or potent unsaid, is frequently used like
the tactical rests, without which music would be the poorer, and the result can be
a remarkable counterpointing of subjective reflection and stark, unavoidable facts.
Starting points may also take the reader off guard: the modest recurrent scenarios
of kitchen, garden, village, church often conjure up a variety of perspectives at
many levels. The whole collection also establishes a sense of unity with its internally
consistent 'world' of references, images, recurrent objects. These are subsumed and
drawn upon to give a feeling of continuity. This also applies to a wealth of tales
generated by revisiting myth and historical anecdotes: metamorphosed characters and
conflicts recur in several books, and interact on one another.
Centres of consciousness are decisive. Particularly in the earlier books the persona
whose awareness dictates the poem's development tends to be passive, moved by forces,
events, people (primarily masculine and 'monolithic' in behaviour and attitude) who
have control over material circumstances and 'externals', unaware of and insensitive
to the inner, evasive meanderings of consciousness and imagination. In later collections
this kind of narrator often feels more combative but the sense of frustration continues
to suggest the spirit's longing for freedom and expansiveness, a theme that gives
rise to many of Anne Beresford's most memorable poems. In one of several reflective
monologues set in mythical Hades (from Footsteps on Snow, 1972) Eurydice complains
of being crushed by divine edicts that ignore the individual's psyche and predicament.
'Bye Laws' from the same book expresses similar constriction in a playful satirical
glance at the omnipresent intrusion of petty rules. It begins with an invitation
to walk with a mysterious lady who embraces a unicorn and talks of her life being
embroidered in sunlight; but you cannot join her: no one may walk on the grass. Then
each less and less colourful attempt at imaginative growth is stifled by trite negation
until one must conclude: 'there are all makes of cages/even one like a chair/we can
be quite comfortable/it is forbidden/to lean out of the window'. More subtle but
still in this vein are two arresting poems from Sele of the Morning (1988). 'The
Mill Owner's Wife' purports to be a Victorian Tale. In fact the wife's austere, cheerless
account of the forbidding environment, her husband's regulated material kindness
and her longing for a softer climate suggest more than disappointed incarceration.
It is easy to be absorbed by the literal truth of Anne Beresford's direct, unadorned
tales; but in this one, as in so many, the understated implications of an asphyxiated
spirit wait patiently to be heard, like their narrator. So also in 'The Fallow Land',
a plea to someone close and loved to value and savour, and therefore share, the subtle,
nourishing details of the here and now. The restless partner is told: 'No words reach
you/no raindrops touch you/ you have taken the white road/ turned aside to the fallow
land/and it is permitted to weep/while learning to count by years not days.' Emblems
are interlaced here, but as with the 'Victorian tale', readers are given room to
find their own level of response. Arguably such poems are ultimately more sustaining
and more indicative of the entire canons's poetic strengths than experiments with
more direct autobiography set in specific circumstances, such as a series in The
Curving Shore (1975) which attempts to come to terms with social changes and threats,
formative friendships and arresting moments, all from a confused past.
early collection highlights another adjunct of the confused, ruminative narrator:
a limboid state of mind, sometimes reminiscent of The Waste Land, but without its
sardonically despondent voices. 'The Awakening' imagises the after-death reminiscence
of figures who have lived out lives as unfulfilled as those depicted above, now in
a vapid no-man's-land where a regimented cycle conforms '... to current patterns/walking
in yellow lighted streets/ absorbed by our own footsteps/with no experience of joy/and
suffering second-hand....We are here in line./It is sufficient.' A predicament conveyed
later in the specific, yet nightmare setting of a hotel in 'Night Life' (No Place
for Cowards, 1998). The inmates are there but not there, like the old French lady
who 'offers me a box of half-eaten chocolates/then she adjusts her hat/and seems
to evaporate/between two beds and a table.' Part of the appeal here is ambiguity:
is it the story-teller or the one observed who is lost between worlds? Using an apparently
routine domestic incident, 'Home Visit' from Sele of the Morning, 1988, shows in
the context of a one-way dialogue between patient and doctor, a similarly 'lost'
state of mind. What is the use of medicines to cure incoherent longings, to make
up for the fleeting moments of joy? All this is asked in a manner which suggests
the frustration of incoherence. Another instance of this poet's dexterity with broken,
faltering monologue. And in every collection we are given hints about kinds of early
conditioning that promote such rootless meandering. A notable example is the ironically
entitled 'Diploma' from Songs a Thracian Taught Me (1980). A certificate for life
is earned by the absorption of negative comments about a potentially lively and exciting
world, about petty dos and don'ts, about your ignorance of facts. Characteristic
of this poet's subtlety is how an apparent series of childhood memories is told in
the confused, haphazard manner in which a child is influenced. Not surprisingly the
unremarkable man who emerges promises his wife 'things/which in the end/amounted
Should we infer from these subjections of the passive and intuitive to a world demanding
action, enterprise and regulation that Anne Beresford adopts a 'feminist' stance,
even though her typically open and elusive manner is in itself the reverse of dogmatic?
As a deeply reflective woman writer she articulates a female sensibility, often with
attractively barbed humour, implying more than the literal surface of what's depicted,
as in this excerpt from 'Letters to Constantine' (from Sele of the Morning, 1988):
Some women are left washing up at weddings when the family holding champagne glasses
pose for the festive photograph.
Dizzy, tired out by the noise of over-excited children
they stand at unfamiliar sinks and dream of space craft
arriving on the lawn filling
the garden with silent music exotic flowers and gentle shadows.
Shadows of dreams
only for these women also know the outcome of weddings... later at home they remove
their straw hats and veil their eyes.
That last phrase has moving overtones about the need to repress opinions and insights.
But there is no suggestion here or anywhere else that the 'feminine' with all its
physical, mental and social ramifications, is the ultimate answer to a history of
male dominion and insensitivity, or that the male role should be supplanted. Once
again though, our we feel how the reflective and imaginative aspect within us all
is obliged to go to ground and veil itself. However, this poem is one of several
which focus on conflicts arising from a variety of tensions between the sexes. I
have quoted the only light-hearted moment from these letters, a linked series of
darkly contemplative pieces in a disarmingly forthright style, conveying a woman's
diurnal loneliness during the long absence of a loved one. It is one of many instances
where Anne Beresford intensifies a woman's inner life by seeing it lived indoors
and looking out, a framework that makes for some of her most engaging poetic drama.
The outside is merely a repository of memories, 'natural' presences with their own
purposes, or full of items the persona longs to share.
Enclosed is the first autumn leaf from the ornamental cherry tree first in the garden
to redden and fall.
Night has left behind strange powers- disturbed, something inside
me is crying. Sun shines on the yellow daisies pears drop from the old tree and the
wind is gentle. Whose shadow on my door? Who spoke my name?
The sequence in its entirety is reminiscent of Tennyson's Mariana poems with their
power, as the critic Lyall commented, to suggest 'the correspondence and interaction
between the mind and its surroundings, between the situation and the subjective feelings.'
'Relict' (from Landscape with Figures, 1994) goes further by conveying the empty
domestic routine of a woman drained of purpose and abandoned by a male partner. A
well-worn subject is given new life by an unsentimental faithfulness to small objects
with their implied bleakness and by a positive moment where an unfaced truth and
its consequent emptiness are confronted. More dramatic but still anchored in palpable
emotional and physical conditions is 'Roman Comedy' (from The Curving Shore, 1975).
One of many vivid dramatisations of the lot of historical figures, it depicts the
final crisis of Julia, daughter of the Emperor Augustus, imprisoned for immorality,
variously married off, then exiled to die of starvation. Unaffected pathos is created
by the interweaving of a torrid setting, ill-assorted memories, the guards' confusion,
and semi- delirious monologue. Two juxtaposed poems from the 1994 book are also indicative
of a balanced and inclusive attitude to feminine adversity. 'Pysche', among several
explorations that take advantage of the wealth of implications in the Cupid/Psyche
myth, shows the woman as victim of circumstances beyond her control, yet weighing
up her experiences with acceptance. 'Yes that was when she became fully conscious
of her plight/and wondered where Amor was/or if he had ever been .../ And later still/when
she wept over her cup of nectar/ knowing she would remain/an unknown thread of silk/among
the gods.' Then, from modern history, we encounter 'Sarah Coleridge Speaks'. In clear,
direct terms an unhearing husband is addressed by the woman who shared without acknowledgement
the life of a man who philosophised, made grand poetic gestures, an exhibit visited
by admirers who ignored her, and yet in his private moments consumed by neuroses
and terrors that plagued her. She concludes with an inconclusive memory which implies
a future with no change:
And when your friends brush past me in the kitchen impatient, sneering, I relive
the time when, far off in Germany, your work, your genius undisturbed by messages
of grief, I rested my head/against the empty cradle.
Even more forthright and uncompromising is 'The Mothers' (from Hearing Things, 2002)
At one level it is an ironically authoritative appraisal in quasi-biblical tone of
womankind as blackened, traduced, even mythologised by male dogma. ('The root of
all evil,/she destroys all she gives birth to,/she is the curse of men/and seemingly
her children.') Such irony and the disarmingly tender but still double-edged conclusion
subtly redeem the poem from feeling like invective or harangue. 'Meanwhile she begs
to be re-housed,/her position reassessed./ Having met her personally/I know her to
feel lost, confused/and contrite.' This detached, layered technique points to another
decisive facet of Anne Bereford's poetic approach to a wide diversity of human experience.
Her spare narrative exposition punctuated by pregnant silences and hiatuses makes
for a universal, scaled-down intensity with the timeless resonances peculiar to myth
and legend. Though this facilitates her many inspired explorations of Greek myth
already alluded to, there are fine poems in this manner with no specific legendary
context where time, place and context are left open. Two early poems, 'First Dance'
(from The Curving Shore, 1972) and 'The Courtship' (from Songs a Thracian Taught
Me, 1980) might be dreams, fantasy or episodes from the repository of legend, and
yet there is a vivid and convincing immediacy of experience. 'September Fable' from
the 1980 collection is a simple tale suggesting the intrusion of violence and a hectic
time scale divorced from a seasonal pattern into a settled rural way of life, as
soldiers seek out a small farmer for official execution. The poem's close fabric
defies quotation but notice the pathos distilled into the man's last moments:
Come morning he stands with dew on his feet by a grave dug as carefully as his asparagus
bed./ "Bury me here alongside my carrots and strawberries. I am your man."
And similar to this quiet hint at the futility of judicial murder is another legend-like
depiction of stealthy change in an isolated community. 'Collage' (from the 1972 collection)
introduces mysterious cloaked presences who stir up nervous disintegration among
people prone to superstition and draw a child into their influence. This implied
loss of a simple, unsophisticated way of life is worth more than any environmental
hand-wringing or verbal assault on faceless bureaucracy. It is a haunting, half-articulate
tale that suggests confusion, helplessness, and something irreversible:
It was the child who broke the spell crept out one morning to search for primroses
forgot the grey shapes half hidden by the trees.
One of us saw him running breathless
down the avenue towards the downs a last speck of white.
Why? cried his mother banging
her head against stones why?she wept into her hands...
Equivalent work in the later collections is more matter-of-fact and confiding , though
no less arresting. One from a series of such poems in No Place for Cowards (1998)
is 'The Uninvited.' Its wild horses of mythical vigour and agility feel like an emblem
for morally unregenerate, untameable forces that cannot be ignored as they charge
across conventional, comfortable barriers, notably from a wilderness into a garden;
but within the subtext there are questions about the conflict of the material and
spiritual, taking responsibility for actions, acknowledging the world in all its
often repellent complexity. ('To enclose them/in promises of heather-covered moors/proves
useless,/to plead work or declining years/only laughable./ they trample on skeletons/not
understanding bones,/they know nothing of reality, nothing of evil.') The creation
of animal legend without anthropomorphic taming down or sentimentality is also achieved
in the moving yet witty monologue, 'Heron' (Hearing Things, 2002). An authentic bird
in all its habits and behaviour, it emerges as another of many figures in these poems
whose appearance belies their significance and who are enlightened by apparently
unspectacular experience: 'and though I could tell you tales/which would rival the
Arabian Knights-/for I have witnessed and heard strange things/when waiting patiently,
half-hidden in nettles/or reeds, by an out-of-the-way stream-/my nature is solitary
and quiet./Read what you can of my secrets/ in my long-winged flight across your
path.' Note how the final injunction typifies this poet's delight in a conundrum,
which challenges the reader to think emblematically.
Complementary poems in the same book carry further this mythical imagising of dimly
grasped forces, forgotten or sanitised in a world absorbed with one-dimensional 'realities'.
'Two Figures and a Baby' sketches a gruesome nocturnal rite with overtones of black
witchcraft, performed by figures that almost merge with their natural surroundings
and make promises of revelations, all observed with scepticism by onlookers, who
nevertheless admit the impact on themselves and their surroundings. 'The Chariot,
in contrast, adapts Elisha's witnessing of his father Elijah's apotheosis by means
of whirlwind-driven fiery chariot and steeds (2 Kings, ii). Set in a brightly illuminated
landscape, it suggests a mystical, elevating experience with the terrors of transfiguration,
a moment of revelation awaited, its scale never anticipated. Drama builds up through
a companionable, confiding presence reminiscent of Christ on the Road to Emmaus,
peaks with the approach of what might be cloud, chariot or wall of fire, and the
overwhelming revelation that we are part of an imponderable whole. But then the narrator
is 'alone between sea and heather,/holding a cloak of darkness in hands/which seemed
suddenly alien.' Once more he's confronted with the limits of being human and living
out the allotted span. Is such commerce with the transcendental too costly? Like
other poems referred to this is not conventionally 'spiritual'. It derives from an
awareness of the conflicts that arise from our place 'on this isthmus of a middle
state', caught between aspirations and earthly roots. 'Rootedness' is a constant
feature of what might be called poems that are concerned more specifically with a
spiritual journey, though it is to some extent a misleading subdivision, since every
poem in the Collected is part of a lifelong tentative enquiry into what makes us
human and how we live poised between various needs and appetites. Which is no doubt
why an attractive hallmark of the more 'metaphysical' poems is their comprehensiveness,
a refusal to allow artificial and misleading divisions between the material and spiritual,
the symbol and the symbolised, 'real' and 'unreal'. The earliest collections are
apt to be preoccupied by memories, often fragmented and confused, that hint at wider,
indefinable realities; but in The Curving Shore (1975) a sense of 'pilgrimage' begins.
The soul's life is a haphazard journey requiring full engagement with the world as
it is, but towards a gradually emerging goal. Accompanying it, but taking all kinds
of elusive and unpredictable forms, there is a presence who tests, guides, reassures,
as in the 'The Comforter': 'Days drop with the leaves/are trodden into the earth-vanish.
When? I ask him. Now?/ he ruffles my hair with long fingers./He waits./High time
to start back, a long walk,/and much will have changed.' In a sense the poetry is
also on a pilgrimage: it takes many years to arrive at a fully convincing medium
to express this inner life and quest. Throughout, the true measure of meaningful
vision is 'humanity' in all its physical and mental complexity. 'Christ Tempted by
the Devil', from the 1975 collection, makes this clear with its deliberately misleading
title, briefly digesting the forty days in the wilderness to conclude: 'the real
test would come/when the drops of sweat/fell on rough grass/the cicadas singing out
the desolate night/while his friends slept.'
But the point is more arrestingly conveyed in 'Leiston Abbey' from Songs a Thracian
Taught Me (1980), indicating that Anne Beresford's most disturbing and memorable
poems surprise us out of easy, blinkered contentment with surfaces. Two people visit
ruins in a meditative, prayerful mood, and notice a rabbit carved in stone. Aesthetically
pleasing, it adds to the sense of peace and stillness, its folded paws merging with
greenery; and then: 'The stone moves gently/as though a heart were beating quickly./
And bending down I see that the stone/is alive and suffering./This is its sanctuary./
Nothing makes sense/ with the heavy clouds spitting rain/onto the rabbit, its eyes
obliterated/by the large swellings of diseased flesh.' Such insistence on inclusive
reality is found in another context in the same book. 'Elusive Love Poem' addresses
the 'Master of Disguises' as 'near' in a dirty train full of ill-assorted people,
and not because the narrator is actually on a pilgrimage. 'All passengers pale and
anxious./The effects of hard winter?/Industrial turmoil?/We are sceptical pilgrims/knowing
well that the world has not/promised anything to anybody./ Your hand presses my heart-/the
falcon does not struggle when caught./Your words are always with me./One day I will
sing unrestricted.' Without the acceptance of the here and now and how it is peopled,
and the unconditional love this must generate in the heart, there can be no comprehensive,
Anne Beresford's more directly theological poems, though often intended to relate
to contiguous, contrasting pieces, are sometimes less convincing than those which
dramatise an indirect apprehension of the numinous in unlikely places. Yet some of
these reflections have the sinewy compactness of R.S.Thomas's verse: direct but leaving
a sense of unplumbed mystery; peculiarly abstract and specific all at once. Two poems
from Landscape with Figures (1994) stand out in this respect. 'Omens' digests with
an undertow of wit the Old Testament history of Yahweh the tormentor, a theology
which results in subtle spiritual paralysis: ' but Yahweh's head is balder/his breathing
slower, heavier/his rage is calculating/ For the first time prophets raise their
heads/anxious/silent.' So, too, in 'The Surprise' the divine manipulator is caricatured:
'And God said:/Let them be pushed/through a corridor/into the light/ready/to be pushed/through
a corridor/into the dark/.../Hope shall be their despair.' Two gnomic poems in Hearing
Things (2002) are just as laconic but far-removed from this biblically portentous
intonation, and they present stylistically and tonally distinct answers to such perversely
one-dimensional theology. 'St Francis on the Mountain' suggests by means of the contemplative's
ambiguous perceptions that truth is an amalgam of contradictions and the perception
of it only earned by strenuously passive acceptance. The imagery and diction are
geared with precision to voice this hard-earned insight: 'The more he felt, the clearer
he saw/how the world became a whirling fire/and the pain of detachment a union/with
what had always been.' In 'Destiny' the meditative spirit is reassured by gentle
implication through images of drifting into and merging with a flourishing landscape,
that there will be no intervention by some alien force, since the comprehensive quality
of reflection is what moves the soul forward. Another way of suggesting that the
individual, not some supernatural ogre, determines his/her spiritual destiny.
Two poems from No Place for Cowards (1998) with a narrator confiding in the individual
soul, are a variation on this idea. 'Crossing Over' combines quietly intractable
images of the physical world with a strange angle on near-death experiences that
result in a new scale of perceptions and reactions. 'Washed Up' envisages a sea/swimmer
experience to present this in-between world, or even the final passing away with
its reluctance and sense of being caught between impressions. Two excerpts mark out
delicacy in depicting the unknowable with what I can only call convincingly contrived
lack of specificity.
How had it come to this how could he have imagined when manoeuvring seas heavy or
placid- his natural habitat- that he would land up here?....
His body becomes unfamiliar
dry, colder, he can feel it wither his eyes dimmed survey a lost world and he swallows
its beauty as he would a shoal of fish.
Perhaps the revisiting of biblical tales and episodes is an adjunct of all these
explorations. Poems of this kind, whether early or late, are well-crafted and colourful,
but they tend to feel too contrived and certainly less 'universal' than writing in
a more broadly 'mythical' mode. The problem for today's reader is manifold. Either
the context and its diverse interpretations are inaccessible, as the bible is no
longer a common repository of reference, or for the initiated such monologues may
feel too refined and sophisticated in tone. However, there are exceptions. In 'Murder'
(Hearing Things, 2002) a disinterested voice comments on Cain's feelings over his
treatment of Abel. It makes this moment feel formative of the human conscience for
all time. 'Cain pale with distress/pondered on the word 'sin',/not sure of its meaning./And
words which had not been invented/grew up in the soil he had tilled/ nourished by
blood and bone.' Likewise 'Scenes from St. John's Gospel' in New Poems have the same
poignancy, allowing telling detail to speak for itself in the spirit of the gospel
narratives, yet implying a sense of revelation and of a presence that transforms.
Qualities particularly present in reflections on Magdalen, the woman by the well
at Sychar, and the woman taken in adultery ( 'In Flagrante Delicto' ) who finds herself
in the town square, which smells of animal-
where she'd been dragged, now stood there wondering what the man- with dirty feet- was writing in the sandy soil, wondering if death was nearer than she'd thought.
And then silence. The two of them suddenly alone sun very hot for the time of day.
To return to 'pilgrimage', there are two revealing poems at the beginning of No Place
for Cowards (1998): 'February for the Crazy Pilgrim' and 'The Crazy Pilgrim in Conversation'.
These assert the mutual vibrancy of body and spirit, distil Anne Beresford's attitudes
to deceptively acceptable divisions between levels of experience, suggest what her
work has amounted to and where it must lead.
'I'll not creep through each day head bowed, feet tentative/ Away with amulets sprigs
of mistletoe white heather there's no place for superstition....
It is remarkable
to conceive a desire for a new life when the present one is only slightly worn but
I am fearful of losing myself losing the world would be no loss but imagine losing
oneself imagine looking in the mirror and not being there.
There is no quick fix and we must face up to contradictions. The term 'crazy' has
significance similar to that in W.B. Yeats' Words for Music Perhaps (1932), a series
of lyrics uttered by Crazy Jane, crazy in the sense of being finely cracked through
the wear and tear of experience, as well as dementedly frank. Part of one of her
dialogues with the bishop is most indicative: 'Love has pitched his tent in/The place
of excrement./ For nothing can be sole or whole/That has not been rent.' There's
no room for over-refinement, no point in not squaring up to who you are and what
you experience. Hence 'no place for cowards' and as for Hearing Things, its title
poem set disarmingly in a garden, warns us about 'over-fabrication' : allow what
comes to you to form the poem, which does not mean to abandon your art, rather to
match what's written with the quality of experience. So it is by a process of 'realisation'
or 'fulfilment' rather than by what critics love to call 'development' that the last
two published collections include more direct engagement with the seamier side of
human behaviour and experience. Perhaps the most outstanding of these are informed
by an acute but never despondent sense of mortality. To mention just few (three of
which envisage male protagonists) indicates their range of subject matter and technique.
The tale of a faux pas by 'George Eliot's Piano Tuner' is told in a brisk form that
feels as tight-lipped as those who observe the events. There's humour, implicit pathos
and a sharp glance at bourgeois preciousness that shows more concern for removing
vomit from silk wallpaper than for the lot of one 'probably dying of TB/ or mortification.'
'Elgar' combines a fragmented style with mundane details to identify with the composer's
inclusive artistic impulses. His creative spirit and the emotional, practical realities
of his life are fused into a memorable portrait. The quasi-musical finale, following
the death of his wife, interweaves nostalgia and living objects:
...he walked in late autumn under the trees in brown afternoons thought of the soft
skin on her neck where her necklace lay. Those words never spoken.
A last adagio
orchestrated in his brain not meant for human ears, celebrated by trees the copper
of beech knotty trunks of oak vibrating in wild winds blown from nowhere.
'Death on the NHS' employs dry, restrained humour to rein in felt but unspoken frustration.
The health machine feels like a faceless juggernaut with its own detached programme,
as suggested in this densely packed metaphor: 'The end was a shattered lamp/paramedics
trampling broken glass/and kindness underfoot.' Officialdom displaces feeling: 'You
can't see the dead without an appointment/and with one you must wait/but not here/half
in, half out of a busy ward/with telephones ringing/nurses scurrying and raised voices.'
As in the Collected's best meditative writing we are disturbed but allowed room to
supply our own details. In 'The Sale of Mr Buzby's House' we encounter just one example
of this poet's talent for expressing bereavement in its many aspects. Here one is
moved not just by the breaking of long attachment to various items, but by the way
this is reported in a sympathetic yet matter-of fact voice, which hints that the
recipient of the news, or we ourselves, realise how little the narrator understands,
even in the restrained closing lines:
Did I tell you about the piano? Once, he played me a nocturne, D Flat major, he told
me. I listened as the sun dipped into night and I wept a little at the closing bars.
His fingers were so delicate.
Such a gentle threnody, and yet the style works quietly below the surface with the
metaphor of diminishing light and the final metonymy for the fragile gift of life.
The informing spirit of this whole collection is openness and heartfelt response
to what happens, whether or not it is palatable or 'convenient.' 'Angels' (Hearing
Things, 2002) is indicative. They are not shining presences but unlikely bearers
of unexpected blessings to which you may or may not respond. ('Only afterwards a
smile or a word/suddenly becomes illuminated.') Similarly the contiguous 'List for
the Gardener'. He never comes, his physical appearance can't be recalled or predicted,
and the list of disorder grows, perhaps another emblem for patiently awaiting the
clear path of illumination. But the conclusion is especially apt: 'We'll make a new
list to leave on the kitchen table/Then someone will find it and say:/Is this the
beginning of a new poem?' Poetry like angels consists of apparently off-beat concerns
and encounters. Anne Beresford has gauged with increasing subtlety what kinds of
insights these may provide.