Robin Fulton Macpherson
(Shearsman Books, 2020); pbk, £10.95
Robin Fulton Macpherson’s collection opens with the observation of birds in the natural world. The perspective of the viewer observing crows watching a heron seem to merge with that of the corvids:
From the black lace of a leafless birch
seven crows seem to be watching one
heron rowing air from A to B.
(‘Crows and Heron’ )
This crossing of boundaries and perspectives between the human and the natural world recurs throughout the collection in a manner that is distinctly positive and friendly, as with the ‘neighbourly crow’ and the tree he perches on, in the poem, ‘Neighbourly.’
These crossings aid the collection’s other themes: that of existence and experience, an awareness of living things coexisting with each other. Neighbourliness is imagined as one of an ancient relationship of crows and trees over centuries of cohabitation. Indeed, throughout the collection Macpherson’s perspective is tied into how one knows the world, and how in learning more, one’s own stance becomes ever smaller.
There’s more space to get lost in now
that the universe is even bigger.
Such a notion is embroiled with time; Macpherson notes how when one visits a place ‘where the past happened,’ the ‘past isn’t there’, for the world moves on and changes around him. Yet Macpherson in one poem turns against this notion. Rather than being lost in a world, he instead pushes for his own perspective and its value:
As far as I know
is not far enough
I’ve been told. But pines
and the wind in them,
harebells and cornflowers
will not survive me
by even one minute.
Subjective experience of phenomena is of value. With the speaker’s death, the world would lose something even when death strips away the meaning of things. Here, Macpherson’s tentative writing, his soft, gentle poetry evokes the mix of dread and hope he holds for the subject, his poetry supporting the complex stance of his themes. For, just as the collection explores the overwhelming nature of life and existence, it continues the same positivity in relationships that one has with the natural world as one within something greater; light becomes an embodiment of this quality:
A gash in the cloud-cover
glared me into wakefulness.
Sunlight that travels so far
so fast lands here so gently
as if to persuade me walls
can be made of light, immune
to the corrosions of stone.
(‘An Arrival of Light’)
This light, even if but a ‘pin – point of light’ is a form of ‘divinity’ as in ‘At a Glance’, lies beyond the ravages of time or decay. While death also figures as an antagonistic force in the collection, light and life serve to fend off such darkness and provides an enduring companionship to the author as he writes.
What a wide world of darkness
the lamp closes from us.
The weak lamp gets the better
of a black universe
eager for the end of light.
The natural world is there beside him against the shadows:
I drove through the shadow of roadside pines.
They insisted on staying where they were
insisted on keeping me company
all the way to the failing of daylight.
Like a beginning.
Or like an ending.
spills without wasting.
Round wave-backs rounding:
darkness won’t stop them.
(‘Light on the North Sea’)
Arrivals of Light deals in strange and temporal perspectives to render a more complete picture of reality; in ‘Very Early’,
Chimney shadows on roof-tiles —
blurred, unnaturally long.
Hortensias now side-lit —
pale stems we don’t see by day.
Trees still packed tight with summer —
saved-up envelopes of darkness.
Macpherson’s work shows how one is but a small part of a much greater whole; this may overwhelm, especially as regards inevitable mortality. Yet, that same person’s existence exists in a web of lives brings meaning and comfort despite the wide, dark world.