Songs of Realisation
This book opens with poems committed to the transfiguration of the ordinary: garden sheds, bus rides, daily life in Tottenham, motorways leading to escapes as urban imagery gradually gives way to the muddled ground just beyond London: woods and marshes, villages on the up and estates fallen into dilapidation.
Central to the collection are the Songs of Realisation. In Indian literature, a “Song of Realisation” is a poem that realises divinity. Here, it is used to describe a poem that celebrates some essential feature of our planet. The nature of matter on, below and above the earth provides inspiration for a description of Epping forest, the Chauvet cave and the Hubble telescope. These three “songs” draw on mythology, archaeology and particle physics to develop their themes. However, the relationship of poetry to content is complex, and here it is informed by the poet’s desire to mediate between a material sense of language and its informative purpose. A leitmotif is the notion of Shiva as creator and destroyer, conceived as a dancer, on axis. In some analogous way, meaning is both created and destroyed in each section, while the intention is to cause thought to express itself as a dance.
Family history and childhood get explored in the poems that conclude the book. Peter Reading described Howell as “an eclectic original”, as is evident here, where the verse demonstrates its malleability.
Anthony Howell is a poet and novelist whose first collection of poems, Inside the Castle was brought out in 1969. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet, he is also a performance artist. In 1986 his novel In the Company of Others was published by Marion Boyars. A recent novel Consciousness (with Mutilation) has just been published by Odd Volumes. In 1997 he was short-listed for a Paul Hamlyn Award for his poetry. His versions of the poems of Statius were well received and his versions of Fawzi Karim were a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for 2011.
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Granna is brushing her hair.
Tall as one of our poplar trees
Bending in the morning breeze,
She bends over and brushes
Hair that comes down to her knees.
Every day, since her teens,
Granna gets crowned
With this turban she has grown
To wind around her temples.
Minnie comes to fix it with a comb.
But Mummy goes to work instead of having
Hair to brush all morning - not having hair
That seems to require a ceremony
Left over from the days when you were
Meant to marry well and weren’t supposed to be
Anything other than lovely, she says.
Granna is referred to as the Duchess
Down the Cockney end of Alma Terrace.
Tall as a poplar, she lets down her hair
Like the grand old dame Rapunzel
Must have become, brushes through
This fine silver waterfall I sit below,
Building fortifications with the wooden bricks
Tipped from the box with the sliding lid.
Mummy’s hair is short and black and curly.
Granna just emerges from a cloud.