four: Lynne Wycherley, North Flight

This week, another collection whose launch party I was lucky enough to attend, the year before last: Lynne Wycherley’s North Flight. I still remember clearly Lynne’s reading of two poems from the collection: the very first, ‘The Last Lighthouse’, and the sequence of three ‘Living by the Great North Road’. Reading ‘The Last Lighthouse’ for the first time since I heard it read over a year ago was quite something; the lines

as north as north can go,
nothing beyond
but a pig-iron heave,
a sky clawed bare by the cold

had wedged themselves in my head in some powerful way. I love poetry that creates an instant emotional or elemental response, on first hearing, without you being able to identify quite why.

I had this reaction – the sudden remembrance of those ones that I’d heard read, and the resonance on first reading those I hadn’t – throughout reading the collection; I sort of got on with it, felt like the poems resonated with me, in quite a different way than with the other books of poetry I’ve read so far this year. That sort of ‘ah’ feeling.

The collection is divided up into five sections, all of which work powerfully by themselves and as part of the larger work. I liked this; there was a sense of journey to the collection. In the same way that the poems of Rapture are all interlocking and speak to one theme, North Flight felt similar, though connected not by a relationship but by landscape. This sense of place – of particular places, and a particular relationship with those places – is probably a large part of why the collection resonated so much with me: I love poetry of the particular, the concrete. And I suppose too that I love the idea of the bleak landscapes (the Fens, the very north of the United Kingdom, Iceland) that she writes about, even without having visited many of them.

I also loved the tenderness of the poetic gaze in North Flight; I think these lines about John Clare‘s childhood, in ‘On Emmonsales Heath’, are beautiful –

Out he sails, a brown dot in ochre furze,
purple ling, a sprawl of bracken,
his hair ruffled like sparrow’s wings.
He parts the heath’s yellow book
and insects fly up in dizzy letters.

There are lots of different characters – John Clare appears a few times, as does Darwin and Herschel’s sister Caroline – which I liked. Some were unfamiliar, and made me want to find out more about them, but it didn’t feel as though that was necessary in order to understand and enjoy the poems.

Lots of favourites – probably too many to list, really. But other than those mentioned, I was struck by ‘The Boya Glacier’, ‘At the Year’s Turning’, ‘Darwin Waits for his Wife’, ‘Mother and Daughter by the North Sea’, ‘North Flight’, ‘Loch Eishort’, ‘Sea Walls’, ‘What Love would Build’ and ‘A Farmer near Vatnajokull’. Of these, ‘Sea Walls’ is probably my very favourite, mostly for its final line:-

Tonight: a night so clear
a blue frost burns the air.
It strips the stars naked,
its silence scours the hills

dissolves the sea-walls
we build around mystery, eggshells
of concrete and tempered steel,
the thimbles we hide in.

Now I too close curtains,
lock starlight in glass,
take shelter in ego’s small drop,
tabletop certainties

a lamp’s yellow glade
but even here, splitting
its star in a three-inch pot,
a primrose mouths immensities.

North Flight, Lynne Wycherley (Shoestring Press, 2006)

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