Anna Robinson praises the economy and lightness of touch at the heart of Geraldine Paine’s poetry

 

The Beginnings of Trees geraldine paine
Geraldine Paine
Lapwing Publications
ISBN  978-1-909252-48-6
pp  68    £10

 

 

This is Geraldine Paine’s second collection from Irish publisher Lapwing Publications.  This small, plain book contains 57 short poems, only one of which, ‘The Creek’, extends beyond one page.

As you might imagine, these short poems display a sense of economy and a lightness of touch.  Geraldine Paine allows the natural rhythm of her, usually short, lines to create a subtle lyricism. This is a description of the start of an earthquake, taken from her poem ‘Dechoukaj’ :

For twenty seconds
land rippled like water,

The music is gently established in the first line, in the assonance of those repeated vowels – followed by that incredible image of land rippling. Here a concept of solidity – Earth – has mutated and is acting like water. The quiet subtlety of this enables her to discuss a well documented earthquake – Haiti, 2010 – without resorting to telling us what we already know from the newspapers. The shock and tragedy of the earthquake is not shied away from – instead they are revealed to us through a series of three images that surprise and are both beautiful and horrific.

‘Dechoukaj’ is a very visual poem as are the majority in this book. Many of the poems contain portraits, almost all are landscapes.  In ‘Morning Men’:

They sit on park benches,
hands clasped between knees,

staring ahead, or down at their feet
where smashed glass, fag ends, spilled
Chinese …

lie quiet among leaves

In ‘A Family Case’ a couple is gradually depicted through both through their actions and small details of their appearance:

In court, his earrings catch the light.

In court, she is glittering.

These small details are enough to give us really quite a vivid picture of the scene – which, for me, has sun streaming in through a high Victorian courtroom window. Their journey to that point is described in an equally economical way:

Somewhere in the tall grasses she broke him,

Somewhere along the watery path
he grew old.

There is something quite Zen about this book. Even when the thing being meditated on is violent or chaotic, it is seen through a still lens and becomes absorbable to us in a new way.

For me, the heart of the book is in the first four lines of the poem ‘She Tells Me’, which I read as a kind of manifesto for Geraldine Paine’s writing practice in this collection.

There are moments when it is enough
to look at a patch of earth to know peace,
when a clear rise of soil towards branches
of utter complication means simplicity.

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Anna Robinson‘s collection The Finders of London (Enitharmon Press) was shortlisted for the inaugural Seamus Heaney Poetry Centre Prize for Poetry in 2011.  She has a new collection forthcoming from Enitharmon in autumn 2014.