I wrote this a while ago, and always meant to come back to it. However, I have been defeated by time. Rather than keep this in a electronic in-tray in the sky, I am going to hit the ‘publish’ button! In short, I hope you get a chance to engage with White Thorns, or any of Brian Lewis’ other work before the Symposium.
Brian Lewis is the force behind Longbarrow Press. However, his own work is published through Gordian Projects. It is his own work I want to write about here. You can buy the pamphlet White Thorns here: https://gordianprojects.com/white-thorns/ The opening of the poem, is there, too.
I want to start by trying to put into words how brilliant it is to receive a Gordian Projects delivery or a Longbarrow Press book. I write this on a day when I have received a not-inexpensive collection from a London-based small press where the book seems to have been jammed into its jiffy bag with a cannon’s ramrod and the back cover was sticky. That’s right: sticky. Gordian Projects (and Longbarrow) lead the way with making your opening of a poetry delivery into a little art ceremony of its own. The craft with which the work has been sent is poetic in itself; if you haven’t ordered a pamphlet yet – do so now, so that you can see what I mean.
White Thorns is also a beautifully crafted object. Buy one – look at how it is bound. Poetry is not a commodity. But the beauty of an object is still fundamentally important to your enjoyment of it; perhaps that should read ‘beauty’; or perhaps we should introduce that tired old Morris quote. Perhaps I should talk about ‘craft’ instead. To the work.
White Thorns has the notion of movement fundamental to it. Walking is the means – and walking is the means of the metaphor, too. The ease with which we understand this is down to its being established in stazas one and two which sit separated from the rest of the work on the first page. Everything else lies as one long unit from stanza three to sixty eight. These stanzas are regular, five line units – always four to a page (apart from our first encountering of them). Destination and departure point are the fluid constant; almost every page sketches out a place that we leave. In this we also understand that our movement is in more than one direction; we – as walker – walk spatially between one place and another (and so we move in time, as we know it and experience it); however, in doing this we progress backwards in time through our interactions with our environment. The very first word is ‘Beneath’ – we are going through the strata of landscape. However (and I feel this is crucial), Brian Lewis is not taking us back to perfect pre-industrial edens; we are being shown the post-industrial palimpsest and made to engage with it fully in the sense that there is no going back to any (real or imagined pre-industrial time). The rivers Don and Idle (mentioned in the first stanza) have been re-routed. Human action – or perhaps the mobilisation of human action only made possible by immense capital power and its accompanying inequality – has irrevocably changed the landscape: it cannot be re-walked, or re-worked. To walk it is to bend to it (and to bend to time). This does not mean it is without an ability to create awe – or create reflection. In fact, the almost perpetual post-industrial movement is as incredible as it is frightening; each new age provides us with another new industrial force and leaves us struggling to comprehend our landscape that is changed in its wake. In White Thorns the turbines that give the poems its name are the latest, only the latest, industry.
I am always struck by the first couple of pages, too: how our current age / epoch is one of ‘monoculture’ – ever increasingly, too.