“Resting Place” Martin Johns (Palewell Press) – poetry review

Resting Place Martin JohnsThe titular resting place is a beach where the narrator has stopped and observed,

“Out in the bay, naked, washed up –
a carcass. Colours of our late autumn,
portholes grown large, jagged, letting

go. An identity parade of gulls lined
the deck. Did we spot someone
on board, or was it a trick of the light?”

The poem ends with the observers leaving, which felt unnecessary, because it took the focus away from the carcass. The “naked” in the first quoted line underlines the vulnerability of the corpse: despite its size, it can no longer protect itself. The description of the “portholes” continue the image. Even though it’s obvious the gulls are not guilty, the “identity parade” suggests this wasn’t a natural death.

The title poem sets up the expectation that landscapes and nature will feature throughout and that expectation is not disappointed. “Composing–walks” is set in the home of composer Benjamin Britten, The Red House in Aldeburgh, and imagines some of the sounds that might have provided inspiration,

“At the Red House, a night chorus of foxes,
owls, the child’s cry of lone roe deer.

Ambit of the nightingale’s song, always
first at dawn. Males singing the females

down, out of brightening sky. This is
the moment of inspiration.

Each individual sound important, only
by playing its own part in the soundscape.”

Appropriately the landscape is described through sound: readers are invited to imagine the habitat through the list of wildlife. The passage of time is marked from the night call of owls to the dawn nightingale. Towards the end, readers are invited to hear the animals’ calls and songs as part of an orchestra.

Sticking with the strong nature theme, “Bird’s Skull” imagines what memories might have been within,

“memories of flight
freedom locked
in lattice of bone
primeval – yet

watch movement
lifted to the sky
to transcend
returned to earth.”

I think an “and” or a punctuation mark is missing at the end of the first quoted line; it’s not immediately clear that the memories are locked in the skull. With a scientific background I don’t agree that flight transcends the mechanics; the notion appears to pit art against science with science losing out. The last quoted line isn’t just the bird returning to earth but also a reminder that this particular bird will no longer fly.

“Winter Afternoon” is a patch of country in an urban garden, focusing on two trees,

“At their feet, pale shoots
show Spring’s return.
Harrying birds have pillaged
the jewelled Malus,

sacrificed crab apples
litter the lawn, blush
as if the morning after.
The street grows closer.”

“Resting Place” isn’t just about nature, there’s a poem about refugees and one touches on Hiroshima. However, the nature poems are more numerous and successful. They show the writer clearly cares about the countryside and has a strong understanding of the eco-systems that support it as well as the cycle of life. The poems lack sentiment and landscapes may be a metaphor for a mood or certain aspects featured to create an ambiance, but nature is not generally anthropomorphized.

“Resting Place” is available from Palewell Press


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: