No 1 - Spring 2001
The Poetry of Anne MacLeod
Now in her late forties, Anne MacLeod may well be taken as representative of all that is successful in our century's developments towards a just and equitable society in which women are no longer largely confined to certain predetermined roles. A practising physician specialising in dermatology, a mother of four children, and a creative writer – principally a poet, but also given to short stories and now embarked on a work of longer fiction, she has achieved a great deal. She spent most of her life in and near Inverness – a Scottish poet born of Anglo-Irish parents and gratefully conscious, she has said, of the links her family had with the Irish oral tradition. The following survey of MacLeod's poetry is based on the two collections that have been published so far: Standing by Thistles (1997; hereafter abbreviated to ST),(1) which contains 57 poems written over a period of some eight years, and secondly, Just the Caravaggio (1999; hereafter abbreviated to JC),(2) which contains 54 poems; my third source is a group of 31 hitherto uncollected, very recent poems up to September 1999 (hereafter referred to as NP), many of which have already been published, or are due to appear shortly, in various magazines.(3)
The critical reaction to her first two collections has been remarkable, the reviews are unanimous in their praise. Ken Morrice wrote about Thistles that "form and sense are generally carefully woven together" and that much of her poetry is "lyrical in nature and cries out to be spoken aloud."(4) The late Iain Crichton Smith remarked of the volume that "Life to the poet is exciting and fresh" and stressed that her "particular gift is for the short poem which is more complex than appears at first sight".(5) Stewart Conn highlighted her "verbal thriftiness" and "precision of line and phrase and subtlety of repetition and alliteration",(6) while Dennis O'Donnell appreciated the "profound emotions" which MacLeod voices,(7) although, as Anna Crowe underlined, "her language is spare, wry, and her eye clear and dispassionate, what she has to say about love and loss is expressed with a feeling that is stronger for being understated."(8) Glyn Pursglove liked the "attractively vigorous lyricism in many of these poems" and notes that Thistles is "a particularly varied first collection"(9) – an observation further developed in the longest discussion I have seen so far, by Gioia Angeletti, who pointed to the "diverse range of voices" in the volume, characterising them as "an 'I' with multiple identities", and who was particularly impressed by the "personalised and original use of classical myth to describe the sphere of the ordinary and the real" as well as by the "peculiar singing quality" of MacLeod's rhythm and "speaking voice",(10) an intensified version of Morrice's observation.
The chorus of praise greeting Caravaggio was even more enthusiastic, with Siusaidh NicNeill calling it "some of the most fascinating and challenging poetry […] to have come out of Scotland in recent years".(11) James Robertson(12) and Robin Bell(13) both thought it even better thanMacLeod's first collection. Elizabeth Burns was especially taken with her "evocation of life in the Highlands" as a "fluid painting of vast skies, earth and especially water,"(14) and Mario Relich approvingly quoted from Crichton Smith,(15) who had written a preface to this second volume, in which the older poet commended MacLeod's "openness to experience" and her "style of forward movement and clarity".(16)
A remark by "MC" (Margaret Crystal) about Caravaggio may fittingly lead us into a closer survey and consideration of MacLeod's art. Having applauded the poet's warmth and the force of her rhythms as well as her exercise of control, Crystal singled out for particular praise the "ability to pare down the words to allow the idea to emerge unfettered".(17) There may be something in this, but it seems to me not only apt to create a somewhat one-sided, not to say false impression of MacLeod's poems, but moreover to lend further support to a tendency in contemporary poetry about which I for one cannot work up such wholehearted admiration. Setting apart such extravaganzas as so-called Sound Poetry,(18) there has been rather too much of the other extreme, of paring down of words and unfettered emerging of ideas so that poets often appear just as wise people – which many of them undoubtedly are – who happen to express deep emotions and deep thought, once one gets to the bottom of it, in a clever arrangement of lines on wide open spaces of usually white paper. One can only speculate how much of such often rather prosy philosophizing will be remembered in times to come. What this study wishes to foreground is precisely MacLeod's ability to combine (like some other contemporaries) strong emotions and striking thoughts with an intense, powerfully charged, in her case at times even exuberant language that makes varied use of nearly all devices of our long poetic tradition, rendering the vast majority of her poems not merely intellectual events but also linguistic events. Thus she very often achieves that complex balance which, I believe, emerges as the sum of T.S. Eliot's eloquent argument presented in his W.P. Ker Memorial Lecture at Glasgow University in 1942: "The Music of Poetry".(19)
The first thing one must stress is her wide range of forms, to which neither rhyme nor the iambic pentameter are strangers, though most poems use not just free but what one may call 'free-floating' verse. Thus, one pole is represented by "Disciples of the Dance" (ST, p. 30), which by its pattern of repetitions and rhymes is a French-type rondel close to William Henley's "Beside the Summer Sea".(20) And there are, particularly, though not exclusively in the first collection, quite a number of poems taking for their base a traditional form.(21) They do not leave it unvaried, however. The rondel is rendered strange by the juxtaposition, typical of MacLeod, of strong run-on lines and line ends calling for a pause but lacking the usual punctuation. Even more radical is the transformation of the sonnet seen in "Redbreast" (ST, p. 16). The three quartets do not rhyme, not all lines are iambic pentameters (four lines are especially remarkable for their shortness, one line stands out because of its rhythmical upsets which mirrors the sense: "when night stumbles early and dawn strives late"). Yet the quartets are sense units, and the couplet springs its rhyme on the reader with climactic force:
Within my breast the blood and fire burn
And I will be consumed in my turn
As so often in Shakespeare and his contemporaries one is even obliged to voice a mute last syllable, thus: 'consumÃ¨d'. The dissolution of the sonnet form goes even further and is indeed thematised in "Choosing songs" (ST, p. 31). In "Walking Naked – iii – Persephone" (JC, p. 39) the iambic pentameters predominate in all three 3-line stanzas, but are offset by a shorter and a longer line (3 and 7), both also upsetting the metre, while "Turf (Earl's Palace, Birsay)" a turf-layer's monologue, systematically demolishes the deceptive appearance of its 3-line stanzas (short lines of three or two beats only) through persistent rhythmic irregularity and constant run-on lines; looked at closely, this is colloquial speech, perhaps slightly more regularised and more charged than ordinary prose, but intriguingly, indeed mockingly dressed to look like traditional verse (ST, pp. 48-49).
The other pole, poems that show not even a hint of traditional forms, may conveniently be shown by the following brief poem:
After the Dark
after the cleansing dark
I want to drink the light
to drown in it
throw curtains wide
assume the wide wide sky
the plateau strung from sea to mountains
thickening shifting cloud
unable to defuse the bellowing
light (JC, p. 81)
This poem shows some characteristic traits of MacLeod's poetry: the lack of punctuation (not always as systematic as here),(22) particularly at the ends of lines – which very often serve as markers of a break in delivery,(23) as here in lines 1 (no comma needed anyway), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and even 8 (where arguably no punctuation is needed), whereas line 9 shows strong enjambement, isolating the word 'light' in the last line to render even more palpable the circular structure,(24) once again stressing the antonym to 'dark' (as in line 2). This antithesis 'dark – light' governs the entire poem, underscored by the chiastic consonance and alliteration of 'cleansing dark' and 'drink the light', the 'd' being reinforced in the following line by 'to drown'. The change from the deep-sounding assonance 'after … dark' to the higher vowels in 'I … drink … light' mirrors the antithesis. And the long [ai] sounds continue through to line 6, conveying a feeling of expansion, not of course in themselves (like nearly everybody else these days I accept that the signifiers are arbitrary) but through the combination of the sounds with the signifieds, the semantic content of the signs.
While the sound structure supports, here as in so many other cases, Morrice's claim that the texts clamour to be read out aloud, the metaphors make one sit up and wonder – why, for instance, the dark should be 'cleansing', what meanings may be uppermost in 'assume the … sky', (line 6), while the force of 'bellowing light' comes immediately home. Here indeed one perceives what Crichton Smith in his review of her first collection meant when he pointed to the greater complexity of her poems than is apprehended at first sight. The lack of a capital letter at the beginning and the lack of a final full stop illustrate what he termed 'open shapes' and what I have called the 'free-floating' quality of much of MacLeod's verse, something which often starts, as it were, medias in res – but without, of course, any trace of epic thunder – and later on suspends meaning and implications, pointing forward beyond what we must perforce call the end, though it may not always be that.(25) NicNeill found the perfect formulation for this in her response to the poem "Today" (JC, p. 19): "No need for Upper Case or points. Just a fragment of time perfectly caught." And equally apposite is her general remark that MacLeod's poems "seem as if she has plucked them from a passing cloud." This does not apply "invariably", far from it, but there are many other examples, particularly in the later volume and in the uncollected pieces – poems like "Pilililiu" (NP,p. 18) and "water and the angel" (NP, pp. 19-20).(26)
Some things having been said about overall structure and sounds, the strong visual element (already mentioned in Robertson's review) must also claim attention. A mild form of effect only visible to the eye – but through the eye a signal for the voice – is the interspersing of verses in italics, as, for instance, in that last-mentioned poem, "water and the angel"; this device is absent from the first collection, it was introduced with JC.(27) Another such device occurs in "After the Dark" with its extremely short last line (a device frequently found in these poems (and something Morrice thought might upset some critics). A splendid example is the end of "Mirrors":
I didn't buy it, though I did frequent it.
I rent it. (lines 8-9, ST, p. 10)(28)
It becomes even more forcefully a visual element, however, if the last word or words have, as it were, been taken off, separated, sometimes wrenched free from a longer line to which one might have assumed it viz. they belonged, as happens at the end of "Birdsong":
you told the birds by note. I
never listened. (lines 4-5, ST, p. 28)
This is, in extreme form, to be found more in the second volume and the uncollected poems.(29) And it is particularly in JC that the visual element sometimes assumes autonomous status for a stretch within the body of poems independently of any aural impact, as notably in "Frozen Fall (Fairy Glen 1996)",(30) while there is in ST one poem approaching in toto what the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries referred to as a 'figure' (Puttenham),(31) brilliantly exemplified by George Herbert, and what has taken wing again in our time under the name of Concrete Poetry. However, MacLeod's examples are less rigid: her poem "Eve" (ST, p. 3), justly her most famous creation so far,(32) embodies the sinuousness of the snake; "Flax" (ST, p. 25) playing through an analogy between a weaving pattern and the sea, depicts by its arrangement of the lines on the page the constant advancing and receding of the lines of waves.(33) A related poem from the second volume, "I Trace Your Name" (JC, p. 65), works along similar lines – I hope I shall be forgiven a pun that came along involuntarily.
This poem (in which the title forms part of the first line, though spatially separated from it)(34) also exemplifies the links to earlier poetry, links which form another aspect of MacLeod's work. Implicitly "I Trace Your Name/in sand before/the water's edge …" evokes Spenser's magical sonnet Amoretti No. 75 "One day I wrote her name upon the strand" (1596). The two poems invite comparison – a worthy subject for a different kind of article, as would be a comparison between Emily Dickinson's No. 249 "Wild Nights – Wild Nights" with its intense, ardent longing and MacLeod's
Nights like these
nights like these, I wonder
why we ever did it – talked –
fucked – kissed – I wonder if
we ever did it
it were all imagined lyric
– scoured mythology
is that not history, is that not song?
nights like these, flesh wisening. (NP, p. 14)
One is tempted to read this poem like an answer, a wryly retrospective assessment of something only in veiled form (though less veiled than usual in Dickinson) glanced at and unfulfilled in the earlier poet. William Carlos Williams has repeatedly been mentioned in connection with her forms of verse;(35) and that is surely correct. And while her poetry does not abound in instances of intertextuality, it is not without them – examples jumping at one are notably the poem "Shakespeare no more" (ST, pp. 53-56; Shakespeare, of course – Macbeth – but also some other authors), her adducing of Sappho in "(The Moon)/Like Silver" (JC, p. 33) and the Hopkins reminiscence in "Icarus" (ST, p. 23): "… I do not hear/the break of day, the passing of our dawn,/the morning's dappled call" (lines 8-10). The poem "Icarus" itself, of course, is one of several breathtaking modern adaptations of classical myths.(36) The most complex and, I have to admit, to me most difficult case is the penultimate poem of the first volume.
Testament of Youth
Life on a plate? Salome danced
rhythmically and well
removed each veil exquisitely
endorsing teasing symmetry
expecting more from Herod's
more than her mother said
more than a severed head (ST, p. 52)
Before dealing with the issue of intertextuality in this poem we must glance at some other matters. One notices the firm framework of two stanzas of equal length, though the metre is irregular, firming up in the anaphoric last two lines, which show an identical pattern(37) and even rhyme (reinforcing the mere gesture towards rhyme in lines 3-4). Alliteration and assonance also contribute to a densely woven sound pattern. While the second stanza reads easily despite the lack of punctuation, that lack causes a problem of interpretation and reading in the first stanza.(38) Should it be 'Salome danced rhythmically and well', or '… rhythmically, and well removed …'? Secondly, should it be , 'removed each veil exquisitely' or 'removed each veil, exquisitely endorsing …'? Finally, should it be 'endorsing teasing symmetry' with 'teasing' as an adjective, or 'endorsing, teasing', as verb forms, thus a variation or even an antithesis? Both would fit the action; in each case I would opt for the first solution, the one that goes along with the line division, but doubts remain. The circular structure is complicated here in that it is not a verbal but a conceptual frame, and it consists not of repetition but of a stark contrast: life (even 'Life on a plate?' – a fairly common expression for something handed you more or less for free – only changes this first signification with 'Salome') as opposed to the severed head, which spells death.
The poem's title evokes Vera Brittain, whose famous book Testament of Youth (1933) is, among other things, a deeply moving account of thwarted hopes and life expectations – thwarted by death. Yet the reader's expectations raised by this allusion to what one may fittingly call the testament of a whole generation, that lost in the drawn-out horror of the Western Front,(39) are quickly dashed – the very name of Salome points in a different direction, closer to the corruption and death presented in Iris Murdoch's novel A Severed Head (1961) and its even more widely known dramatic version, evolved in collaboration with J.B. Priestley (1963).(40) Salome herself is a theme of vast ramifications in Western Literature – for the modern period one might especially think of Flaubert's novella HÃ©rodias (1877), which stresses the sensual allurement of the dance, as do Wilde's play Salome (1894) and the Richard Strauss opera based on it (1905).(41) The hypotexts on which all versions rely are the rather bare accounts of St John the Baptist's end in Matthew XIV.1-11 and Mark VI.16-28, the name of Herodias's daughter being a later addition.(42) The poem, resonating with these large literary themes, concentrates on just one issue, the young girl's expectations raised by her mother – expectations of what, one wonders? – and coming to nothing more than an old man's drunken glee at youth unveiling its beauties (in what, save for the historical frame, we might call a strip-tease). There is even an adumbration, possibly, of sexual disappointment,(43) but one had better hold on to the general notion of hopes not fulfilled, of ultimate emptiness.
Looking at MacLeod's poetry from the point of view of primary thematic concerns, something to which most of the pieces are amenable without much difficulty,(44) one notes two particularly large groups: Love and Nature, each accounting for some 30 poems, among them many of those I would call strong and most beautiful. The experience of love – most often figuring in the first volume – is created in very many aspects, ranging from the ecstatic certainty of a union of souls (vying in firmness and completeness of belief with Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 or John Donne's "Valediction Forbidding Mourning") in the programmatic "There will be no end" (ST, p. 2, the first poem of the volume) to the sober, dry consideration of "Nights like these". In between these two poles there are many variations, among which the insidiously sensual seductiveness of "Eve" (ST, p. 3), the weary and dreary solitude of the morning "After you'd gone" (ST, p. 29) and the desperate emptiness of the woman who loves and knows or fears she is an object of lust only: "psyche 5" stand out as serious examples, while "in bed with a poet" is collected and witty (ST, p. 17) as is the even shorter poem that concludes the first part of Standing by Thistles:
You say I am not passionate
You say I am not passionate
my heart does sommersault
but not for you (ST, p. 31)
Though now dealing with themes, one must not pass over in silence the fascinating aspects of form in this poem: what we have here is, in closely looked at, a perfect iambic pentameter couplet, but re-arranged to form four lines, a stratagem which, while preserving the effect of the rhyme, throws into stronger relief the punch delivered to the man's (probably) inflated ego. The lack of punctuation creates an interpretative choice (as in "Testament of Youth"), which is more easily resolved, however. One hesitates at first between reading '… not passionate,/not true.' – which is feasible – and reading 'not passionate./Not true: …', which I hold to be a better interpretation. And the metaphor of 'sommersault' – a new, striking variant of what used to be called 'head over heels in love' adds weight to this little gem of a poem, while the lack of the final full stop invites us to supply the obvious implication: 'there is someone else …'. Also the less numerous love poems in Just the Caravaggio and the uncollected pieces contain much of interest and attraction.(45)
The poems of nature and atmosphere,(46) are bound up with the characteristic trait that all critical reactions stress in MacLeod, and not surprisingly either: this is a Scottish poet living in Fortrose, the landscapes described or, more often, evoked, are the Highlands, including the Western Isles and the Orkneys, and the seas around, the skies above them. There are so many one immediately takes to that it is difficult to choose. And again the range of attitudes and associations brought into play is very large. "Munlochy" (ST, p. 50), "Snow Falling" (JC, p. 27), "Cropmarks" (JC, p.51), and "The Apple Falls" (JC, p. 62) are examples of fine and thoughtful observation conveyed in concrete yet imaginative words. Most often these poems are not, however, purely descriptive, there is a self experiencing them, as in "Cuckoo of Sligachan" (ST, pp. 42-43 – and what comparisons with earlier cuckoo poems does not this invite!) and in "I have been blind" (NP, p. 5).(47) Sometimes others are set in, involved with, or react to, nature, as in the slightly sardonic "She Said" (JC, p. 17) about a tourist couple collecting and numbering samples of rivers, and the beautiful river scenes the speaker sketches in her mind in the poem "River" when her second daughter tells her on the banks of the Ness that "she wants to be a river" (JC, p. 16). The love of her environment shines through everywhere, but most intensely perhaps in "Leaving Cape Breton 1999" (NP, p. 37) where the speaker compares the foreign landscape to her "black not-island" (line 3 – the Black Isle, so called although it is only a peninsula (between the Cromarty and Moray Firths), perceiving similarities and differences, giving both their due.
The same local colour determines poems about specific places, towns, harbours, and the people in them, as in "Stornoway" (ST, p. 37) and "In the Kibble Palace, Sunday Morning" (JC, pp. 34-35) – or people's traces, as in "harbour news", a calm, both humorous and grim portrait of Ullapool in the summer heat (ST, p. 50).(48) And many of the poems one might call character portraits are similarly situated in the poet's Scottish world including her own family and friends.(49)
One poem connected with nature deserves separate mention, as it alludes with "Walberswick" (ST, p. 22: "In Walberswick the lilies danced …") to the Suffolk village where Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the famous architect and painter (Glasgow, 1868 – London, 1928), lived for a while. The poem is not only about an impression of flowers reminding one of Wordsworth's daffodils, but mainly about a painting made of them by the "you" addressed in the poem (that is, Mackintosh),(50) a painting which converted lively chaos to elegant order – suggesting a still life (the French term nature morte springs to mind), giving instead of "slow, delicate life" (line 2) "slow delicate death" (line 15).
A smaller group, just a handful, might be called political poems, one of which deals with the question of Gaelic versus English: "Reading" (ST, p. 36). The longest and weightiest among them is "Shakespeare no more" (ST, pp. 53-56), one of the few poems not liked by all critics.(51) It is a bold undertaking, trying to rectify what the speaker calls Shakespeare's distortions of Lady Macbeth and in general to rewrite Scotland's history ("always tragic", line 46) from a woman's and a – moderate – nationalist's point of view; and from that of a person who loves the Highlands and wishes them a better fate than to be "… fit for Harry Lauder/and time shares, but for very little else" (lines 70-71).(52) Such direct social criticism also comes to the fore in another smallish group including "CafÃ© society" (ST, p. 11) and "Torching Cellulite" (JC, pp. 59-60), a scathing attack on the all-standardising tyranny of modern commercial concepts of beauty and fashion.(53) Perhaps even more effective is the oblique way chosen in making the Isbister Skull talk in "Tomb of the eagles" (ST, pp. 44-46); his monologue, speaking as one belonging to the eagle race to a child of the later dog race (meaning us) has real force, and, as in William Golding's The Inheritors (1955), the unusual point of view leads to a strange way of putting things – here we see ostranenie (the Russian Formalists' favourite device) in effective action.
Two further small thematic groups merit especial mention. The one are poems portraying childhood, of which the richest perhaps is "Roses" (ST, p. 14). The self remembers "A feast of roses" on waste ground behind the house, remembers plucking these "dog-roses, banquets of them" and trying in vain to plant the "bleeding stems" elsewhere. The poem turns on the young child's lexical error – but insists that the error hit the truth after all – the essential truth of the experience, never mind what the word should be:
'It's bouquets, not banquets',
smug older sister.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It should be banquets. (lines 11-14)(54)
The second group is largely confined to the hitherto uncollected poems55
and offers reflections on the writing of poetry. Two very short ones may
usefully be juxtaposed:
sifted (NP, p. 1)
the poem is the skin
words choose to linger in
defying paragraphs (NP, p. 3)
Both share the qualities of linguistic intensity – the one by alliteration and assonance, the other adding rhyme; the first one has an added visual impact moving it close to the picture poems mentioned earlier on. And both show that fundamental openness of form, especially the first one truly freefloating. Moreover, brevity is here indeed the soul of wit, operating principally through the title's relationship to the main text in both poems. Finally, one must stress that both statements are truly worth pondering.(56)
One could, and perhaps should, go on about the work of this poet, concentrating on themes such as the treatment of other human relationships than love,(57) furthermore the techniques of description and evocation, which I have only touched on, the shifting speech situations, analysing more closely the multiple poetic selves noted by Angeletti (p. 60), and still others subjects. I am convinced such studies would be highly rewarding. But for the present I trust enough has been said to vindicate the high praise with which the reviewers greeted the appearance of the two volumes. They are still very recent, hence one may have to wait some time for more extensive scholarly treatment, to which the present study can but serve as a kind of prolegomenon. Enough has been said, I also hope above all, to make even more people eager to see more work appear by Anne MacLeod.
(1) ST = Standing by Thistles (Edinburgh: Scottish Cultural Press, 1997), pp. 57. Divided into two parts: "You say I am not passionate", pp. 1-31 with 37 poems, and "Oran mor", pp. 33-57 with 20 poems, the last of which, "Standing by thistles" (p. 57) – a beautiful nature poem – lent its name to the whole volume (and in the process created an important ambiguity; removed from the hill–path poem, the phrase 'standing by thistles' can assume another significance – after all, this is Scotland's national plant. The information about her life is taken from the biographical note prefixed to this volume, supplemented by some comments made by Anne MacLeod to me in a note of 8 January, 2000.
(2) JC = Just the Caravaggio (Salzburg, Oxford, Portland: Poetry Salzburg, 1999), pp. 94 including two pages of very helpful notes. This volume is divided into four parts, each entitled after one of the poems in it: "She Said", pp. 13-44 with 23 poems (counting the 6 poems of the "Walking Naked" sequence as separate poems), "Brief Encounter", pp. 45-55 with 7 poems, "I Trace Your Name", pp. 57-68 with 9 poems, and "Angel Gravestones", pp. 69-92 with 14 poems. The title of the whole volume is taken from a separate poem, prefixed by way of prologue: "The Poet's Price/Lautenspieler" (p. 11); "just/the Caravaggio" is the last line of a poem in which MacLeod jocularly asks for that priceless painting in the Salzburg Archiepiscopal Palace art gallery as her guerdon for coming to the city and performing in the context of a conference on contemporary poetry in 1997. To analyse the rationale and cohesion of the parts in both volumes would be a rewarding task but would take us too far afield in the present context.
(3) I am extremely grateful to Anne MacLeod for letting me read and use these 31 uncollected poems, arranged by her in a sheaf headed New Poems, which take up 37 pages. Judging from the work I have seen, she is an English-language poet. There are individual Gaelic words, however, in some poems, see ST, p. 35 "Oran mor", p.
36 "Reading", p. 38 "a mhathair"; in NP, p. 37 "Leaving Cape Breton". And "Shaking Brig" (ST, p. 51) is written in Scots.
(4) Morrice, review of Thistles (and Maureen Sangster's, Out of the Urn) in the Aberdeen University Review, LVII:2 (Autumn 1997), pp. 158-59; here 158.
(5) Crichton Smith, review of Thistles (and Donny O'Rourke, The Waistband and Other Poems) in The West Highland Free Press, 1997, n.d., n.p.
(6) Conn, "Listening to the Land" (review of Thistles, and Stuart A. Paterson, Saving Graces) in The Poet's Voice, 4:1 (Summer 1997), pp. 96-101.
(7) O'Donnell, "Piffle, Woofle, Waffle and the Dolphins" (a review of the volumes of seven different poets, among them MacLeod's Thistles) in Cencrastus, 59 (March 1998), p. 23.
(8) Crowe in Lines Review (June 1997), p. 56 – again in a review including Sangster's Out of the Urn.
(9) Pursglove in Acumen (Summer 1997), pp. 110-11.
(10) Angeletti, like Morrice reviewing MacLeod and Sangster together in the Scottish Literary Journal, Supplement No. 47 (Autumn 1997), pp. 59-62.
(11) Siusaidh NicNeill in "Rev. of Just the Caravaggio, by Anne MacLeod" in NorthWords 20/21 (1997), p. 75.
(12) Robertson, "Natural born poets" (about MacLeod and George Bruce) in Scotland on Sunday, 4 April, 1999, p. 11.
(13) Bell, "Poetry" (reviewing four new volumes, among them Caravaggio) in Books in Scotland (Spring 1999), p. 19.
(14) Elizabeth McCay Burns "Where Poetry Lives" (Rev. a.o. of Just the Caravaggio, by Anne MacLeod) in Acumen 35 (September 1999), p. 105 [103-7].
(15) Relich, "Poetry" in The Scottish Book Collector (May/June 1999), p. 37.
(16) Crichton Smith in Just the Caravaggio (Salzburg, Oxford, Portland: Poetry Salzburg, 1999), p. 9.
(17) Crystal, "Open Book", in Highland News and North Star, Week ending 22 May,
1999, p. 30. For some of these reviews, which I would not have found easily myself, I am again indebted to Anne MacLeod herself, for others to my colleague Wolfgang GÃ¶rtschacher (Salzburg).
(18) As practised, for instance, by Bob Cobbing.
(19) Eliot, On Poetry and Poets (London: Faber & Faber, 1957), pp. 26-38. The passage most relevant to Cobbing and others taking his line will be found on p. 30. An abridged version of this lecture is available in Selected Prose (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1953, repr. 1958), pp. 56-67. A similar approach, starting from the semantic side but resulting in the demand for the same balance, was taken, e.g., by the German poet Gottfried Benn, also presented in a lecture, delivered at the University of Marburg in 1951. See Probleme der Lyrik [Problems of Lyric Poetry] (Wiesbaden: Limes, 1951, repr. 1959), esp. p. 20.
(20) Henley's poem, rhyming abbaabab abbaa, is adduced by Edid Hamer to illustrate the rondel, see The Metres of English Poetry (London: Methuen, 1930, 4th edn 1951, repr. 1962), p. 291. MacLeod's poem rhymes abba baba abbaa. There is a similarly structured poem in NP, p. 31 "We do not change", but it is organised in three-line stanzas, and the scheme is looser. In both the punctuation (especially the lack of a final full stop) introduces a further element of estrangement and uncertainty. "harpsong" (NP, p. 17) is close to a vilanelle, though more freely handled (for a strict model see Hamer, pp. 292-93).
(21) "There will be no end" (ST, p. 2), has an iambic pentameter base, a metre which is also – as one might expect – frequent in "Shakespeare no more" (ST, pp. 53-56) – and as frequently undermined; "Pieta" (ST, p. 4) has three-line stanzas of parallel build, a refrain always being line 3; I have already mentioned the similarity of "Disciples of the Dance" (ST, p. 30) and "We do not change" (NP, p. 31); "walking song" (NP, p. 4), composed of three 3-line stanzas, with lines 1 and 3 predominantly dactylic, line 2 anapaestic; "Eve" (ST, p. 3), "After you'd gone" (ST, p. 29), "Testament of Youth" (ST, p. 52); "barely spring" (NP, p. 6) are tightly held together by an intricate net of rhymes (internal and end-rhymes), recurrent rhythmical cola and a variety of repetition and sound effects which makes them stunningly perfect poems, but a descriptive analysis of these devices would take rather long.
(22) Poems with absolutely normal punctuation are not frequent, see e.g. ST, p. 30 "Orion Dancing"; JC, p. 11 "The Poet's Price/Lautenspieler"; NP, p. 22 "night of the meteor" (note the systematic spelling in lower case, something MacLeod uses often). A mix of punctuation and its omission is more common, see e.g. ST, p. 12 "Kiosk" and 44-46 "Tomb of the Eagles"; JC, pp. 28-29 "House of Butterflies" and 85-87 "It Started With Apples"; NP, p. 5 "I have been blind". The absence of punctuation was approvingly noted in Ken Morrice's review of Caravaggio in the Aberdeen University Review, LVIII:2 (Autumn 2000), pp. 335-36; here 335. I am very grateful to the editor, Ian A. Olson, for letting me see the proofs of this review before publication.
23 See e.g. ST, p. 20 "psyche 4" and JC, p. 59 "Lingering Wood" (there, as here, varied by strong enjambement).
(24) For other poems showing circular structure see e.g. ST, p. 2 "There will be no end", p. 12 "Walberswick", p. 37 "This island", p. 51 "Shakin Brig"; JC, p. 15 "Voices on the Water", p. 33 "(The Moon)/Like Silver"; NP, p. 11 "japanese screen", p. 17 "harpsong", p. 29 "my heart, prevailing". There are more.
(25) See also e.g. ST, p. 20 "psyche 4", p. 21 "psyche 5", p. 41 "Port Righ harbour"; JC, p. 19 "Today" and p. 26 "This Extreme White"; NP, p. 7 "brambles" and "children at the reading", etc.
(26) Some others: "Munlochy" (ST, p. 50); "Today" (JC, p. 19), "The perfect moment [iii]" (JC, p. 68); "I know this house" (NP, p. 28), "a wave" (NP, p. 32).
(27) Italics are also interspersed e.g. in "Brief Encounter" (JC, p. 52f.) and "Potatoes" (JC, p. 73f.); "japanese screen" (NP, p. 11), "Patrick Walker's sheets" (NP, p. 33), "Bessie Corrigall" (NP, p. 34).
(28) See also the endings of "There will be no end" (ST, p. 2), "what is not seen" (ST, p.5), "psyche 5" (ST, p. 21); "The Cretan liar" (JC, p. 25 – the last two lines).
(29) See e.g. "She Said" (JC, p. 17), "Available Light" (JC, p. 47), "These quiet nights" (JC, p. 61); "Spring and all" (NP, p. 12) and esp. "We do not change" (NP, p. 31).
(30) JC, p. 18; see also "Her Blood" (JC, pp. 20-23, see p. 21), "Walking Naked – i" (JC, p. 37), "Poyntzfield" (JC, pp. 82-83).
(31) George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (publ. 1589), repr. in Elizabethan Critical Essays, ed. G. Gregory Smith (Oxford UP, 1904, repr. 1967), Bk. II, Ch. XII, pp. 95-105.
(32) It is mentioned or quoted in all but one of the reviews of ST which I have read; Gioia Angeletti spotted the link to the picture-poem tradition when she referred to "Eve" as a "quasi-concrete poem" (p. 60).
(33) See "There Is" (JC, p. 64), also about the sea, and an interesting analogue "Snow Falling" (JC, p. 27).
(34) Cf. ST, pp. 6-7 "Our lichened pear tree", p. 37 "This island" and "In Stornoway"; JC, p. 17 "She Said" and pp. 73-74 "Potatoes"; NP, p. 32 "a wave".
(35) See Crichton Smith's Preface to JC, also Burns's review of this second volume in Acumen (September 1999).
(36) Noted in passing in Crichton Smith's review of ST. The other examples are the frighteningly dark, no longer innocent "Persephone's Daughter" (ST, p. 15) and the shorter and milder "Walking Naked – iii – Persephone" (JC, p. 39), also "Cassiopeia" (ST, p. 18). A different kind of intertextuality is the passing allusion to Andersen's fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" which occurs at the end of "Burnt mound" (ST, p. 47): "Prince Charming/be an archaeologist", while "Song of sixpence" (ST, p. 8) is really built on the nursery rhyme. Yet another kind is a quotation, given at the bottom of the page, from Peter Mortimer, which evidently animated MacLeod to write "This Extreme of White" (JC, p. 26).
(37) How the lines should be scanned is in itself again a problem. Initially, I thought of a trochee followed by two iambs. Yet the alternative, a dactyl followed by a cretic is also attractive, particularly in view of line 1, which scans best as two choriambic feet, for what those have in common with the dactyl is a tripping effect. Yet this whole approach seems inappropriate to this poem, very few modern poets would even care to have these feet in their heads, let alone at their fingertips (an involuntary catachresis I could not bring myself to cut). One does better to hold on to the overall suggestion of dance-like movement.
(38) An instructive parallel to this kind of problem is Hamlet's famous "What a piece of work is man" speech (Hamlet 2.2.286-90), where there is punctuation, but that of the Folio differs wildly from that of the Second Quarto so as to give, in the word of Philip Edwards in the New Cambridge Shakespeare series, "a quite different meaning". See Hamlet, ed. Edwards (Cambridge UP, 1985), p. 131, note. For a longer discussion of the choices involved see the extensive note in the Arden Shakespeare Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (London and New York: Methuen, 1982), pp. 468-70. There is one decisive difference, of course – one could ask MacLeod and then decide, bearing in mind W. K. Wimsatt/ Monroe Beardsley, but also E. D. Hirsch.
(39) See in this particular application of the term (rather than that of the post-war expatriate community in Paris), Reginald Pound, The Lost Generation of 1914 (New York: Coward-MacCann, 1965), also the apt title of George Panichas's collection of reactions to that war: Promise of Greatness (London: Cassell, 1968).
(40) For details of this collaboration see John Fletcher, "A Novelist's Play: Iris Murdoch and the Theatre", Essays in Theatre, 4:1 (November 1985), pp. 3-19. A similar tangential use of a title is the poem "Brief Encounter" (which also gives its name to a whole section in the second volume), a poem counterpointing a modern stewardess during a flight with the people remembered on snapshots showing her mother's friends – thus evoking the Second World War and with it NoÃ«l Coward's short play Still Life – or rather, the script into which he turned it for David Lean's rightly renowned film Brief Encounter (1945).
(41) For these and further recreations see Elisabeth Frenzel, Stoffe der Weltliteratur, (Stuttgart: KrÃ¶ner, 1962, 2nd edn 1963), under "Johannes der TÃ¤ufer".
(42) According to Frenzel (see above) by Isidore of Pelusium, a church father (ca. 379- 440).
(43) Head cannot only mean 'maidenhead', but also, at least in one instance, a man's prepuce: Romeo and Juliet, 1.1.21-24, according to Eric Partridge, Shakespeare's Bawdy (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1947, rev. edn 1968), p. 119; the implications need not be spelt out.
(44) This bears out her avoidance of, as Morrice puts it, "unnecessary complexity and wilful obfuscation"; I have problems with five poems in JC: p. 40 "Walking Naked – iv – Forfeit", p. 41"Walking Naked – v- Mirrors", p. 68 "The Perfect Moment iii", p. 75 "Archaeologists", pp. 85-87 "It Started with Apples"; also one poem in NP: p.7 "brambles". My suspicion that this is due to some obtuseness on my part was confirmed when the poet told me that the unifying factor of the "Walking Naked" poems is anorexia, that of the "Perfect Moment" poems being each of them representing various perfect moments. (Anne McLeod, written communication to myself dated 26 Jan. 2000).
(45) My favourites in JC are "The Perfect Moment [ii]" (p. 67) and "The Certainty of Ice" (p. 78), in NP it is "my heart, prevailing" (p. 29).
(46) A theme which Morrice in his review of Caravaggio highlights with the words:; "The author has an obvious love-affair with nature, …" (p. 335).
(47) Longer, very complex examples include "Our lichened pear tree" (ST, pp. 6-7) and "These Quiet Nights" (JC, pp. 60-61), where the involvement entails knocking down an owl while driving in the dark. One of the most beautiful lyrics of this kind is, however, "Angel Gravestones" (JC, p. 71).
(48) Close study and much space would be required to do justice to a long poem, very acute in imagination and empathy for all its detachment, in which the speaker walks through what must be a decommissioned, derelict former RAF station: "Blackstand" (JC, pp. 82-85).
(49) See e.g. "Stir-fry", a poem of friendship (ST, p. 9), "Great Granddad and the Actress" (ST, p. 13), "Turf (Earl's Palace, Birsay)" (ST, pp. 48-49); "Roddy's Medal" (JC, p. 76); in a way also "Bessie Corrigan" (NP, p. 34).
(50) This identification was kindly provided by MacLeod herself; perhaps I should have guessed, but I did not.
(51) Notably not liked by Angeletti, whose review of JC calls the poem "de trop in the
volume because of its inflated language and hackneyed critique of phallocentric literary agendas and historical representations" (p. 61).
(52) For other political poems see esp. "Pieta" (ST, p. 4, written by a mother in the name
of mothers all over the world" and "Walking Naked" – vi – Bread for Bobbie Sands" (JC, p. 42).
(53) See also esp. "american mystery 1" (ST, p. 19), "Shop windows" (ST, p. 36); "Tenting" (JC, p. 63) and "There is" (JC, p. 64).
(54) Other childhood poems include "spinning nettles" (ST, p. 24, in some ways similar to "Roses"), "Clapping rhymes (JC, p. 48), and "children at the reading" (NP, pp. 9- 10), all three being presented through an adult's eyes.
(55) A case could be made for including "Reading" (ST, p. 36) in this group, also e.g. "Walking Naked – i" (JC, p. 37) and "Clapping Rhymes" (JC, p. 48) and a few others, though their burden lies elsewhere.
(56) So are the others in that group, esp. "How long does a poem live?" (NP, p. 2) and the extremely complex "harpsong" (NP, p. 17).
(57) Such as e.g. the very tense and moving "Tea-dance" (ST, p. 27) about a family in which the mother, terminally ill, is being taken to hospital, or "Her Blood" (JC, pp.20-23) which is about a family but also about a young woman patient.
(58) I should like to thank my colleague Sieglinde Reschen for proof-reading this article and weeding out a plethora of typing errors and the like.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The