Thursday, 13 May 2010

Alice Oswald

Someone, might have been Carol Ann Duffy, wrote the other day that the best poets writing in Britain are Don Patterson and Alice Oswald. There are lots of poets I don’t know but of those I do I agree those two are the best, though I’ve only just got to Oswald.

I’d knew of her Dart, about the River Dart in Devon, and had read bits in reviews and bookshops, but I’ve been reading A Sleepwalk on the Severn, about the moon and the Severn Estuary -- tidal of course, the mud uncovered half the time and under twenty foot of water for the rest. Bits are spoken by a chorus, the moon, the wind and the sleepwalking poet who takes notes.

Though it’s not always easy to see what is being literally ‘meant’, reading the Sleepwalk is intensely pleasurable. There’s a high density of phrases that pull me up sharply with their freshness: e.g. from the second and third stanzas of the whole thing:

Swans pitching your wings
In the reedy layby of a vacancy
Where the house of the sea
Can be set up quickly and taken down in an hour

All you flooded and stranded weeds whose workplace
Is both a barren mudsite and a speeded up garden....

And later, the moon rising above the mud:

She begins to climb
In her slimy death sheath
Very strong-willed and tugging
Tied to the earth

And I like the frequent use of colloquial language and contemporary ‘unpoetic’ references:

But it’s like searchlights out here
I keep being followed by a strip of light
I keep seeing the moon
Mother of all grasses

Will re-read. Looking forward to Dart.

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