Saturday, November 5, 2016

New publications from John Freeman

What Possessed Me

I have taken great pleasure in the last week reading two new publications from John Freeman, whose excellent collection of prose poems, White Wings, I reviewed a while back. Now retired from his teaching post at the University of Cardiff, John has clearly entered a highly productive phase, with a chunky new collection from Worple and a pamphlet just out from Knives, Forks and Spoons.

The collection, aptly titled What Possessed Me is resolutely personal in its focus. The poems often start from everyday or even mundane experiences (a walk around the village, going to the dentist), or from encounters with people and places (there is a sequence on a visit to Athens, another on a series of visits to Llandaff), but this is not autobiographical or even confessional work in the narrow sense. The poet does not have any revelation to make about his own life, rather the poems are a record of his concerted paying attention to his surroundings, his cultivation of a state of receptiveness and careful observation, in which he wishes 'to be fully open like wild roses, / wanting only this, nothing more than this.' ('Summer Solstice, Cornwall'). Reading the poems opens the reader to such attentiveness, too -- a welcome corrective to distracted the consciousness of our digital age.

The pamphlet, Strata Smith and the Anthropocene, mixes prose poetry, verse and essayistic fragment to address the legacy of William Smith, the founding father of geology, whose 1815 map surveyed and classified the various geological strata to be found in the British Isles. The texts deftly interconnect Smith's life story, the poet's investigation of that life and our shared ecological predicament, expressing genuine admiration for Smith while not losing sight of the wider historical and political ramifications of his work. To me, this felt like a taster of what could be a longer account, although the pamphlet stands up very well on its own terms. I can certainly recommend both books.

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