Michael Tolkien

Anne Beresford


(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.

However, that 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 to misunderstandings.'

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, 'unrestricted' celebration.

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
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.