Angela Gardner’s collection The Told World can be taken to be as an acute observation of the human experience. It shifts from the almost tactile nature of one’s immersion in certain everyday moments to a quiet, almost detached meditation upon them.
Welsh-born Gardner who now lives in Australia is an artist as well as a poet. Gardner’s background in art is an ever-present feature in her latest collection. This marriage of mediums gives The Told World a three dimensional quality. Gardner’s seemingly effortless contemplation on the most miniscule of moments is sharply contrasted with the author’s larger underlying philosophical questions, and often this occurs even in the same stanza.
Consider these lines from “Morning Light”:
It is Summer
insects beat their fragile wings against glass
and from the sky, your mouth… cities disappear.
These two lines can be considered a microcosm of the whole collection. The poem offers an apparently insignificant moment, very delicately captured – a snapshot of insects in the summer – only to change course and turn the focus onto larger, and arguably unfathomable musings. This is very typical of the choreographed dance between the carefully observed glimpses of fragile moments and the towering questions which Gardner poses. Perhaps most significantly, these major questions are put without the poet ever shaping the pretence that she, or the poem, holds the answers, and in doing so offers a shared path of contemplation with the reader. However, though at times the collection feels deeply personal, with little moments perhaps taken straight out of the poet’s own experiences, The Told World also achieves an encompassing universality. As the collection unfolds, its diverse influences, ranging from Eastern philosophy to Shakespeare become increasingly apparent and thus touches upon so much more than one might expect at first glance.
The Told World is very much concerned with the depiction of animals and how they interact with humans, and indeed almost all of the poems here make use of animal imagery, offering, amongst other things, a different perspective through which to view humanity. For example the recurring images of birds throughout the book serve as a lens through which human movements and ways of life are watched and juxtaposed.
tongues fail or fade and birds in half-light
colourful, silent, hardly known.
That image of birds flying slowly above all earth-bound life portrayed in The Told World stands as a powerful metaphor for the increasing mayhem of our modern society, and adds an element of haunting, enduring tranquillity. Questions of war, genetic manipulation and what the future holds for the human race are explored here and throughout the collection. The presence of animals and particularly birds also mirror the writer’s interaction with her work; the poet hovers above the narrative of her poetry –“we take leave of ourselves” – Gardner notes as she watches her own thoughts. Rather like a hawk, waiting and making ready to dive on its prey when the time is right, Gardner immerses us entirely in the world of the poem. The reader can only follow.
Though the collection is small in size, the questions which the poet sets and chooses to explore go far beyond the confines of this small volume. The Told World creates a conversation between the work and the reader which lingers long after the book is read.