A Picture Of Wind

It must be greatly pleasing for Longbarrow Press to see the copies of J.R. Carpenter’s This is a Picture of Wind pop up across the internet demonstrating the geographical reach that this book has achieved. Like the wind itself, ’success’ must be very hard to measure for publisher and writer alike: but tangible signs of the latter must be a lot more welcome than the manifestations of the former. Wind can appear to us as the most malevolent of weather features perhaps because we feel it in terms of its anger and violence. As the four pages of words that make up ‘The Beaufort Poems’ at the start of this collection demonstrate – we notice the wind most at its worst: even half way down each of the four pages are the words ‘loud’, ‘ boisterous’, ‘earful’ and ‘keening’. And that’s half way if you are counting the words; in terms of mid-space the words ‘moaning’, ‘rough’, ‘piercing’ and ‘howling’ appear at the centre of the page and so weight our perception of each of these words taken from the descriptors of the Beaufort Scale. Their development in font size down the page also pulls another visual trick, in that a phrase like ‘a torment’ is larger and in a larger pool of white space – seemingly pulling away from the rest of the descriptors. People will tell you that the Beaufort Scale is an empirical measure, thus grounded in scientific method (because sensing something proves the truth of it). But the words pruned by J.R. Carpenter across the first four pages demonstrate the quasi-science of the scale and, perhaps, call into question human measurement of phenomena of general: ‘loud’ is not the same as ‘keening’; ‘rough’ and ‘piercing’ are not the same; ‘torment’ is not the same as ‘ruinous’ – the word that precedes it at the base of the previous page. The way the scale has thirteen stages (and each page of the first section here discussed has therefore thirteen lines) is held up to the light here. Starting the collection in this way also puts the creation of the Beaufort Scale in the light, too. You can find this discussed here (https://uncannylandscapes.podbean.com/) by  J.R. Carpenterand Justin Hopper. There is something of the art installation on the page of the first four pages – but the flavour and form of the collection change in the next sections.

Poetry writing requires skills that are almost impossible to put criteria to (see above). But one of the greatest unsung qualities of a good poem is its movement from one sentence (idea… thought… line…) to the next. There is movement, or there usually is, because the concision of the form and the way that a reader must not be hectored or told how to feel. Much of what a poem actually is or does, is carried by the gaps: the movement between one part and the next which does not exhaustively cover the ground between those two points. Elision doesn’t create gaps – the reader paints in the spaces deliberately left based on the other known detailing. I have to mention this because I am not sure I have seen such a masterclass in this aspect of writing as this book – most obviously in the three sections ‘A Year at Tottenham’, ‘A Year at Sissinghurst’ and ‘A Year at Sharpham’. Having proved the distance between words (even seemingly equivalent phrases) in the opening section, we know move between sentences with great power. Sometimes the grammar of one sentence is finished in the next – or a third; here the gaps are insertions. Sometimes the movement is greater – allowing the reader to make bridges between phrases. It all points towards the invisible.

And it is touching. But I couldn’t explain why. Much like how I think I might struggle to describe how the wind feels against my face when I crane my head out of the window to see the martin nests on my house. See how it moves: ‘The trees an explosion. We slip in the mid-stream. Ride the falling tide. Row the green ocean.’ See the movement? (From ‘May’ of An Year at Sharpham’). Each unit on the page in these ‘Year’ poems is also a tight unit of prose poetry that bears formal restraint to the eye. There’s also plenty of guidance for the reader in terms of repetition within a month, and between month entries. Another reminder, perhaps, that one of the keys to poetic experiment is the delicate balance between the expected and the unexpected. But it comes down to emotion – and the the ‘Year’ sections stir. There is more to be said about the poet as curator, too. More than I can say here. Poets bring a wide range of source materials together; only so much of what a poet does is 100% personal invention. Source material is bent into shape, selected, revised. So the work in this collection has its multiple sources – all ‘curated’ by the writer by various methods.

All these words, and I don’t seem to have said enough. I haven’t even mentioned the Vahni Capildeo poems that close the book, or the introduction by Johanna Drucker. I must another time. If you’re still unsure, whatever side you are of whatever poetry war is being fought today you will be asking yourself all of the right questions when you read this collection.

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