Michael Tolkien

In Position (Bloodaxe)

(Publ. in PN Review:1997)


    Edmond, already over seventy, is 'in position' to level cool judgments on past shocks and taboos, and to move forward with new affections. Her '... Literary Age' is no time for refined contemplation. She alludes to the spirit of Tennyson's Ulysses, not 'pursuing/ the traveller's ridiculous industry/ of survival', but a journey towards a 'risky/ passionate vista' that confronts illusory fixtures like marriage or longevity, and makes her intermediary between the 'doggedness, imagination, love' of her grandmother, and her infant granddaughter, asked as the book closes to 'take my hand... feel the tingle of courage she passes through me to you.'  'Discovery' rejoices in home after actual travel. Here 'I breathe, and the light grows/ within me...'

From this standpoint she can harmonise 'appearance/ and reality', aspiring to the self-possession of her black swans of Lake Tutira who seem to speak ' the entire, unarguable truth '. This is not intuited truth, but one measurable by observations like those about time,

' when you haven't got much of it left':

             'The rules change, a single hour can grow huge

             and quiet, full of reflections like an old river,

             its slow-turning eddies and whirls showing you


             every face of your life in a fluid design...'


A metaphorical hint that she must scrutinise the living and dying components of this life with time's new 'wide and luminous eye'. Her sceptical empathy ('...we grow/ larger of heart as we learn to allow our pain.') integrates misgivings, frailties and radical revaluations. In 'One to One' marital love ends on a bridge: 'Two fleshed tendrils/ in the brain leapt their tragic gap.' But death adds another dimension:

             'It is as though you said why then

             hold onto anything- the loss

             of love is all and lasts for ever.'


    In contrast atmospheric musings or depiction of place lapse into philosophising; and attacks on anodynes and placebos rely on dry exposition. The convoluted teasing of significances from a fingernail blood blister in 'Body Language' is no match for poems where insights leap unbidden into conversational spareness: cicadas exasperating her into appreciating their sufficiency; the brain-dead patient of 'The Pace of Change' revealing that to be alive is 'to fight/ moment by moment to achieve each/ rasping, shuddering sob of breath.'

    Despite its faults this book will move many of all ages to consider where they stand between the agnostic or transcendental perspectives generated by old age.


Lauris Edmond