After the reading in Maryport last week I put out a few enquiries into the work of Richard Longstaff, having heard the poet Felicity Crowther read one of his poems at the event. I am delighted that Felicity sought me out to pass me a copy of his Collected Poems at Borderlines this weekend. I have had time to read it now, and (as always happens) it feels timely that I am reading it now.
If poets (as I’ve read in more than one place) are those who feel the evanescence of things a little more keenly than others – i.e. that’s the reason that they turn to poetry – then there’s something even more poignant when a collection or a pamphlet is put together after the death of a poet. It is impossible to read Elizabeth Burns’ collection Lightkeepers without that context… without knowing. The first English teacher I ever showed a poem to died a short time ago and his family released as a collection the poems that he’d written, but not published in his life. And so it is with Nick Pemberton’s chapbook that I have read from at a couple of events recently – it seems so vital a thing, even though it is only paper and words. If the act of writing is an attempt at preserving something, then preserving the volumes that are the result of this attempt seems so important.
The titles in Richard Longstaff’s book are a thing themselves. I could really go on about a title like ‘A Georgic For The Year 1914’ or ‘Duffer Route East Face Fleischbank F/A 1913 (August 1972) Grd 5+’. Buy me a cup of tea and I might. And lines like ‘Each hollow stone and bladed crag is smashed with noise’ seem like they are chiselled out of the Lakeland rock itself (this is from ‘On Scafell’). I wonder, also, whether any other poem I will read this week will match the sharp-air breath-pull of the three-line last poem of the book; that will have to remain your discovery, though.