With the sub-title, CATHARSIS AND ‘THE NATURAL THINGS’, these poems take the Greek prefix ‘phys’ – “the natural things” – into three apparently contrary directions. ‘Physick’ is an old name for a medical practitioner – it conjures images of a mess of curling manuscripts and smoking vials, and a bright-eyed, raggedy-bearded vieillard. And it can mean ‘a cathartic potion’. Let these meanings float around, butting up against life, as poetry requires. They butt and bounce – and they sheer apart…
The first group of poems puts the ‘phys’ into language – the flamboyant vernacular of extraordinary – and ordinary – grounded life, often in times lived and gone. The ‘physiques’ conjured here belong to those who have walked the ground of my deep-breathing, passionate island, the island at the end of the earth. The second group seeks catharsis in the emotional interplay of poet and the ‘things’ of the natural world, an interplay through which the poet unsuccessfully seeks an Emersonian transcendence. Nature poems then, but with an ambivalent lyricism. The third set of poems ratchets away from the experiential ground of things. It privileges the reasoning mind. Here the abstractions of scientific inquiry into ‘the natural things’ are ‘examined’ through the uneasy and speculative medium of poetry. When I started these poems I doubted whether this was even possible. I still do.
At the back of the book is a series of poem-specific notes, and these are most extensive in relation to the poems of the first suite. There may, in some instances, be a case for reading the relevant note in advance of the poem.