Grevel Lindop, Luna Park, (Carcanet, 2015), 95pp., £9.99, ISBN 9781857549874
Reviewed by Colin Pink
[Originally published in LP10, July 2016]
The art historian Erwin Panofsky famously said of that meticulous Netherlandish painter, Jan van Eyck, that he was both a telescope and a microscope. He was able to make us see great distances and also bring to our attention the miniscule and close at hand. It seems to me that this is a very good way of summing up Grevel Lindop’s achievement in his new collection of poems, Luna Park. Take, for instance, the opening poem ‘Cosmos’:
Between Orion and Gemini, an almost-full moon.
Wrinkled tidewater tilting at the lips of Morecambe bay.
Galaxies of cow parsley edging the valley fields.
Slow explosions of lichen on the fellside boulders.
He brings together the near and the far, shooting us into the infinite space of the night sky and also directing us to what lies at our feet.
The moon, in its various aspects, is a recurring presence in this collection. But the title, as we discover in the poem of the same name, refers to a derelict amusement park on the outskirts of Sydney. It is a symbol of both abandonment, nostalgia for a lost past and longing for some unobtainable primal satisfaction.
The ghost of a funfair, due for demolition –
a landscape of fantasies that would be
nowhere soon …
… Here I am
ten years later, like a child with no money,
hopeful, face pressed to the steel mesh.
Many of the poems in the collection are what one might call occasional poems; poems prompted by commissions (‘The Shugborough Eclogues’) or by-products of other activities the poet is undertaking, such as researching his biography of Charles Williams (‘Exorcism’, ‘Oxford Again’) or travelling around Latin America researching his travel book Travels on the Dance Floor (‘The Key’, ‘Cigar’, ‘Cuba Café’) or recording a radio documentary (‘The House Under the Crag’).
Lurking behind all these journeys back and forth, from place to place, is time. Not time hurrying near on a winged chariot but time creeping up like players in a game of ‘statues’. There’s something uncanny about the experience of time in these poems, as in Lindop’s remembrance of (as a young man) having his future read by a Gypsy palmist. After hearing a baffling series of predictions to which he cannot (then) relate:
…before I knew it my time was up,
it had all flowed through me. I couldn’t grasp any of it:
so reassuring, so almost hypnotic that voice
still in my ears as I stumbled for the blind
confusion of the bead curtain and caravan steps,
when I touched grass I’d already forgotten my future.
Central to the collection, both literally and thematically, is ‘The Shugborough Eclogues’. Commissioned to celebrate one of England’s stately piles, Lindop turns the subject, written over the course of a year, into not only a fascinating history of Shugborough Hall and its environs but also a meditation on mutability, as reflected in the cycle of the seasons, and present day social problems.
It is characteristic of Lindop’s work that his mind shifts back and forth in time and place, weaving together the past and present, the near and far, the quirky architectural monuments of the hall and thoughts of the murdered children on nearby Cannock Chase:
the Green Knight in the gritstone gorge
the green man sharpening his blade
the cries of children on the air
the virgin goddess in the wood
the maiden with her triple face
howling Diana Tervagans
avenging, still unsatisfied,
the tears that nourish Seven Springs,
the lifetimes still unreconciled,
Christine, Diana, Margaret
the shattered beauty in the leaves
faces reflected in the pool
the twilight of the darkening springs.
Lindop folds a multitude of thoughts into his account of the hall; its economic origins in an act of brutal piracy by Admiral Anson, (the house ‘nourished on blood and gunpowder’) a memorial to the ship’s cat, which accompanied Anson on his circumnavigation of the world, the Green Knight, bureaucratic inspections by DEFRA, inner city riots and the 2008 banking crisis,
Money is debt, so now the central banks
pour in more zeroes to fill up the void;
and banks are built, as Maynard Keynes once said,
of marble and mahogany, to hide
the truth that there is nothing real within.
A generation hooked on shopping blames
shopping’s dark side; dreams of a feral tribe
unparented, unschooled and unemployed.
Lindop is one of our best nature poets but he is much more than that. His thoughtful verses, always acutely observed and meticulously composed, reveal the world in a complex light, by turns unsettling, thought provoking, and humbling. These poems evoke the precious fragility of existence in both the natural and human worlds, which are vividly seen to be always inseparable.