Throats Full of Graves
chapbook review by David McLean
This is a brief review of the latest production by the Scottish poet Gillian Prew, in my opinion the best female poet currently active.
Her liminal love with its dug arms
scoops the red roots of the tight trees
where her best wedding was throttled and laid,
and her lit loss burns in her brain
scorching the slow madhouse of her days.
It might be appropriate that I modestly neglect to refer to a poem in this book that is about me, namely “In the garden with a poet”. I shall, however, refrain from doing the modest thing and mention it.
Days are here – untidy. That is the beauty
of light: it illuminates the mess
for embracing. We are
a long time nothing. There is no place
to exhibit the night like a sword.
This because it exhibits clearly, in these closing lines - which are much better than anything I have done recently - the terrible predicament of those like Ms Prew and myself, who are atheists and might like to be logically precise, when we affect to produce the “poetic”, When “we are a long time nothing” the word “we” no longer applies to us, time and our world has ceased and probably only Larkin has ever succeeded in saying this properly, in “Aubade”. Of course, I object dreadfully to the term “poet” as a sortal, it identifies no clear class of objects; it is usually little more than a dreadful piece of self-promotion. Were I ever, per impossibile, to make a living by poems, I might allow the description on Derridean grounds - “It's me job, like” - but not as a token of self-ascribed excellence.
More seriously, in another poem, Prew writes
I, like a slow thaw in the garden where
all this started under the sun yesterday
(or years ago) There is
a simmering vitality that permits persistence,
that allows healing and the adoration of wounds
This is close to the essential, the reflexive wallowing in despite and self-contempt that is the essence of anything interesting in literature. The glorious puny assholes who fall down in their sheer stupid debility waiting for some cunt Godot who never even shows, they are so much more beautiful than any alleged poetic perfection:
There is no destiny worth hoping for.
There will be death, and
in the meantime life. What rages
inside is something
if we are lucky
do not fear
or bother to breathe.
The metaphor of interiority is acceptable here, of course, although I assume the inside to be the consciousness that spreads outside the alleged real. The poems here are of seasonal mortality, or, more precisely, of facticity and thrownness, of being there in this confusing admixture of earth and world that colors memories ideologically and insists - with the simmering vitality that is the sheer denial of entropy that even the simplest organism is - on taking a shot at perdurance, an attempt that is doomed to failure since the ultimate victory of entropy will become the ordered beauty of perfected and, necessarily, unobserved disorder. If we could perdure, this would be spoiled. But there is a pointless meaningless beauty in the striving, one which expresses itself in the laudable futility of poetry, at which Prew kicks serious ass, with poems like this one, of “Memory”:
Bud of the quiet dead, lifting
light from the black-bitten wound. A grief,
a lie a dry, futile church. You are a ruin
of tears and ragged distances. A hidden.
A scarred truth roaming bone. You fail
with a brave despair
like widowed songbirds, their throats full of graves.
The need for miracles, as Prew says, is abject. What actually is, is enough. if one does not multiply entities beyond necessity one can still populate a poem.
I think this may be Prew's best yet, which means that you should buy the thing. It's not out yet, but here are details: