Dear Tombs, Dear Horizon, Anna Jackson, Seraph Press, 2017
Anna wrote this hand-stitched chapbook in Menton, France when she held the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in 2016. The long poem savours time to write in the slow stretch of the present participle: walking, dreaming, seeing, reading, writing and more walking. Such leisurely engagement with books read, the world sighted and thoughts that appear like surprising musical notes renders the poem lento, adagio, largo.
For the reader to be caught in such a contemplative beat is immensely satisfying. The physical world simmers on the line while the abstract world, both dreamed and mused, shines below and above.
Sun on the coast, sun on my back, but
the mountains dark with cloud,
misty down to the ground, and higher
up, stormy. The shadow of my hand
on the page as I write, writing
inside my own shadow.
The poem steps off from graffiti witnessed on rocks: ‘You are my most lovely horizon’. Each experience, thought, recalled page or vista steps off into the mysterious elsewhere of thinking, and from the elsewhere of thinking into the paradoxical here yet elsewhere of writing. The horizon is the translucent line where Mediterranean sky meets Mediterranean sea, a sensual hook of beauty that stalls the walker, but it is also the indefinable lure that poses a need to write, to think, to experience. It is Katherine Mansfield, the other authors, the conversations that stick, the not-home-ness that becomes a home-ness.
I am thinking of the way the doorstep at Villa Isola Bella leads to the corner of a Vermeer painting and the poem produces a mise en abyme of looking. Stillness matters: the long pleasurable look into the corner of a painting becomes the long pleasurable look into the corner of a poem where detail stockpiles and sparks daydream.
At the Villa Isola Bella, my favourite place
is the doorstep, on the corner where a spider
grooms itself on the mottled buttery
yellow stone, beside the eggshell blue
door frame, and the terracotta tiles.
It is like finding myself in a corner
of a Vermeer interior, a detail
closer up than a Vermeer painting
has ever gone, so that with all the stillness
on the canvas, there is this corner
so close up, the spider moves.
Therein lies the beauty of this sequence: in stillness you find movement and in movement you find stillness.
I adore this poem because it takes me to an unfamiliar physical place, yet allows me to ride the coat tails of a roving, inquisitive mind. Such curiosity fires the writing process. I am reminded of the way Bill Manhire produced his astonishing collection, Lifted, after his Menton Fellowship with its gift of time. Anna has a new collection in the pipeline but, in the meantime, this is a must-read treasure, also in debt to the gift of time. I don’t want to unpick the curves, arcs and echoes in the poem, the illuminations and the epiphanies, because I want you to read it for yourself. I just love it.
A ticket simply to go, or to go and to return?
Oh, to return, to return, to return,
to return, to return. I walk once again
méthode flâneusoise around
the coast and the graffiti
reads, “Ma plus belle horizon, c’est toi.”
I wonder how to turn the dream about the
tombs into a poem. I think of
starting the poem “Dear Tombs,” and
wonder whether perhaps I should
try writing the poem
in terza rima. Really I just want
to pile into it everything I have got.
Seraph Press page