The latest collection of poems from Stevie Ronne is a challenge in its opening sections, but particular rewarding, when it reaches its final, ambitious prose poems. The collection is divided into three sections, “Manifestations”, where some of the more classically styled poems mingle with bold experimental pieces, followed by the epic prose poem “A Night in Morden Tower” and finally, “After…”.
Poetry should challenge the reader on a number of levels; Ronnie’s opening pieces veer from the beautiful yet frustratingly short such as “The Manifestation”, to the more grounded, exemplified by “Four years from now, walking with my daughter”. This last is an excellent lyrical poem that encapsulates the simple pleasures of family bonds without sinking into cloying sentiment. The poet imagines meeting a lost lamb in a future trek with his daughter.
We Listen to a tractor –
Count a flock of crows like seconds. Laughter
One lamb finds the only tear in the fence there is.
She bleats and makes for a clearing in the trees.
The metaphor is not heavy-handed, gentle, but strong enough to impart the joys of parenthood and the fears of eventually letting go.
Not only a poet but a multi-disciplinary artist, Ronnie works with sculpture, print, and paint. His painterly eye is evident in ‘after Auerback’ [sic]:
these expressions of content and contempt,
each abstracted set of eyes,
each shoulder, neck and setting,
sometimes more able to transmit
the transference of a feeling we call art.
This is not then just a manifestation of art, but the active meditation on the impact of art on both the consumer and creator. Language is his brushstroke but here it is a musing on the shapes and sizes of all arts and artists, along with their audience. Art, he declares, is for everyone, whether it is fated to be condemned or whether it will manage to offer a form of contentment to both creator and viewer.
A distinct metaphysical element pervades the majority of his work; there are abject deconstructions, coupled with elegant, often surprising reconstructions of the written form. It is this hook – this tantalising wait for the final unifying line or stanza – that both engages and challenges. Ronnie is unapologetic and fearless in his use of difficult content and forms. The highly experimental, “Tears Please Visit And Flush This Memory”, can be read from the last line to the first as well as in the usual way. This circular verse contains a pained cry of loneliness in the mire of a painful, unspecified repeating memory; its haunting narrative chills to the bone:
tonight) I’ll write cry
rather than shin once
The opening stanza connects to the last line;
Drip and drip dropless
Visit please (when I am alone
Once again, this is not just an exploration of the poetic form, but also a commentary on the nature of creating art. The final line, connecting as it does to the first, hints at being separated and lonely, yet the art – that need to create, – is always there. The poem asks whether an artist is truly alone; in a fascinating piece, it is layered with multiple interpretations.
The final sections of the collection give way to the epic form, and it is here that Ronnie, having teased us with some frustrating glimpses into his ability to handle the longer discipline, lets rip in a glorious fashion. In the centrepiece, “A Night in Morden Tower”, we are taken on a journey, almost a quest through the poetry scene of the 1960’s and 1970’s, culminating in a showdown with the guardian spectre of the muse’s tower. That tower is a striking metaphor, indicating that in order to create we have to scale it repeatedly.
In many ways, the poem symbolises the entire collection. Manifestations is indeed a challenging climb but worth the effort, and eminently worthy of repeated visits.
David MacDonald Graham