For a reader who loves the mystery and fairy-tale quality of wild forest lands, the nature of Anna Robinson’s second collection, Into the Woods, is pure food for the creative soul. Set in imaginary woodlands in the centre of London and unusual in its twelve –“chapter” format, the poems form themselves into a story of traditional Druidic wisdom, moving through that setting in memory-traces of strange dream sequences, recurring images and motifs: the old brown chair, the crumbling cottage, the hidden corners, the forever uncarved name on a gravestone, the feral girl-children rising from beneath their covers of leaves to speak words wise beyond their years. “In the Heart of the Wood”, “The leaves/Stir and the face of a dirty child appears. The wild girl.” (“In the Heart of the Wood”)
There is a hypnotic aspect, reminiscent of European folk-tales, to the muted colours of this collection: the grey village streets, the shops where none but the choicest and rarest of wools are sold and the book of stories that can be read only from the brown chair. Winding paths leading into the unknown draw the reader further and further into Robinson’s hazy, half-glimpsed world,“We’ll leave/ a trail for you to follow, if you must.” (“Into the Woods”).
Ultimately, this is a world which cannot belong to the living:
You are not the stuff of the woods. Return to the world.
You need to breathe as they do in cities.
(“In the Heart of the Wood”)
That Druidic awareness of nature and its relationship to human beings in this Robinson’s latest collection runs through the poems like an underground stream, always there, murmuring, haunting, and sometimes rising majestic. Stories are exchanged between the walker/poet and the shadowy, ragged woodland folk, who seem to be formed from the forest itself. Direct references to traditional stories are frequent in this lyrical collection – the children, the witch and the gingerbread house; the woman who scrubs floors with cinders and tea; the lost son who returns with education and wealth. But the children are too wise to go to the gingerbread house; there is no prince for the scullery maid; the son may return, but he dies unrecognised. Their tales are never finished.
Spells and folklore are everywhere. In “Sore Eyes”, an old woman would burn the magical rowan in her fireplace then
… charge out of her flats and dance
like a nutter round the stones in the fountain.
Watching from a hidden place, as if stalking a wild animal, the poet watches woodland girls who seem to be part of the trees (her hands are the colour of unripe acorns in “In the Heart of the Wood”) as they harvest seeds and berries; but the hunter becomes the hunted. The human will not always win:
She’s creeping towards me
Taut and focused, like she’s hunting me down.
Can she hear my heart beat – or simply smell me?
Amongst Robinson’s deeply moving shorter lyrical poems, the most heart-breaking – and I do not presume to know whether it has a personal resonance for the poet – is, for this reader, “Lily Dead”; the cremated child is
far from anything she knew and my heart
hanging like a thing caught in a tree.
Oh Flawless Heart of the Wind, bring her home.
As so often, her prayer is addressed to Nature itself; at the same time, the city, the grey streets , built over the unseen stream, are at hand. The ill-kempt playground, a summer fete at Box Hill, beer, tea, motor-bikes, a remembered shoe-shop: all have an existence in a world which is, for Robinson, no more real than the hazy, snowy landscapes close by, watched over by a race of creatures nearer to the animal kingdom than to the world of human beings.