Elisabeth Bletsoe, Landscape from a Dream
by Michael Peverett
Volumes could be written on this, Elisabeth Bletsoe's intricate Shearsman collection from 2008; here, I won't get much beyond the first page.
at the edge of the body
in the skin
along the littoral
This is the beginning of the title poem. At the end of the poem there’s a – what would you call it? – a topographic note: “Purbeck coast from Swanage to Kimmeridge”. A lot of my thinking around this book, when I move away from the detail, is about regionalism, which has been a big piece of grit in poetry, with a whole lot of questions around it, since Wordsworth. And of course not just in mainstream poetry. Brixton Fractals is a regionalist book. And a re-envisaging of shape/space/time may be particularly connected to regionalism. Elizabeth Bletsoe’s poetry is full of flying dislocation like a post-avant book, and contrastingly full of careful evocation like a mainstream book, and full of bodies of knowledge unrecognized by the academies, like a hippie avalon south-western book, and in short she is exactly what a modern Dorset poet ought to be. But. Would she, for example, be giving a second thought to Paul Nash's surrealist painting if it had not just happened to incorporate a view of cliffs near Swanage? Doesn't this local repossession of internationalism imply a drastic foreshortening of context? And, by the way, an unsurrealization of Surrealism?
The acuter pressure of this issue in regard to Bletsoe as compared to Allen Fisher is twofold: 1. Landscape from a Dream scrupulously suffixes its poems with locations, and never puts a foot outside Dorset. 2. Bletsoe’s poetry is welcoming and immediately attractive and for all its learning pretty accessible, and I’m sure she really does reach a regionalist audience that includes some people who are more interested in matters Dorsetian than they are in the supposedly wider world of poetry, and that audience is something that most P-A poets don’t either have or want.
The nearest I can come to understanding this regionalism is via homeopathic provings (Bletsoe is a trainee homeopath), which involve an assertion of place as a definite and individual fact, not just something that "happens to be". I "happened to find" this well-documented account of a proving of Stanton Drew (stone circle near Bristol), if you'd like to take it further.
This intelligence of the coast is two-way: here the exposures are what give names to Jurassic sedimentary stratigraphic formations that course through Europe – Kimmeridge Clay, Portland, Purbeck. That geological map is an intellectual construction, true. Kimmeridge Clay is economically very important because of the hydro-carbons on offer. You may think that the poem is aware of this larger context, though it doesn't say so as such.
the weight of the cumulux
your tidal breath
filling my cavities
in liquid carbonic interchange
fissility of shale, its
plasticising when wet;
relict textures of petechial haemorrhage,
layered like fingernails, revealing
the stem-ossicles of a crinoid
nb "cumulux" maybe isn't a neologism, I don't have the OED to hand, but it is anyway a very rare word, though since adopted by a fast-emerging Canadian player in the cloud-computing market.
nb "shattering with equinox". I first thought to say that this was a neat, Latinate, intellectual way of referring to the rhythms of freeze-and-thaw erosion. Does it ever freeze right down on the Dorset coast-line? More to the point, probably, is the "x" in cumulux, texture, equinox..., visually representing the shattered X-shapes of shale exposure.
On to the next page, and we're swimming.
walled up inside
translute bricks of water
making a slip,
grafting on a limb
to a limb, fused
through the amnion
in marbrine light
above our bodies,
the underneath of the surface envelope
is an ametrine laminate
nb "marbrine", from old French, e.g. memorably in Ronsard, or Aucassin and Nicolette: "A la fenestre marbrine / La s'apoia la mescine" (at the marble window the girl leaned out). Bletsoe borrows the word because its "ine" sound suggests transparency to English-speakers - ultramarine, piscine, tourmaline etc.
Landscape from a Dream is, kind of refreshingly, just a bunch of poems and not a project. I don’t mean this is rare in poetry generally, but it’s rare in the kind of poets that I like to read. There are basically six poems, and each one is a world to itself, and four of them, at least, have the dumbfounding clarity of recently-witnessed miracles. Apart from “Landscape from a Dream”, the others are:
“The Separable Soul” which goes into a kind of sustained take-off, as if the swan’s water-beating were effortless.
“Birds of the Sherborne Missal” which is a kind of reinvention of the art of illumination, in words.
River-ephemera gather at Smear’s Bridge: pollen spicules, florets of eltrot, a meniscoid bulging.
Four women-from-Hardy-novels monologues – (they don’t have a collective title) – not very reminiscent of Hardy, or of novels. In fact a transformation, whose distance from Hardy is there to be measured and wondered at.
swollen, we are twin horns
you standing at the mouth of a shining-walled labyrinth
At some point I planned to compare or to contrast this:
Light a sycamore-key, turning it to old gold
As it unicycles gently down to the table.
Peter Redgrove, "The Feast Under the Clitoris-Tree" from Abyssophone (1995).
My original point, I supposed, was to compare the sensuality of that well-placed Latinate word. But now I think it was because Redgrove is also a poet of transformative miracles. Either way the comparison is inevitable and Bletsoe must have been dogged by it all through her career. OK, so it's lazy thinking, and I just love to quote Redgrove. Anyway, her poetry stands the comparison, doesn't it? As the "Hardy" poem epitomizes, regionalism becomes a distant thing because of the action of the poem.
Landscape from a Dream by Elisabeth Bletsoe was published by Shearsman in 2008 (ISBN: 978-1-905700-87-5).