John Forth looks at poems written by Tamar Yoseloff to accompany an exhibition of David Harker’s images and finds they are sometimes more assertive than the understated artwork, but are also very much at one with it.
Nowheres, the current exhibition at the Poetry Café, is a small collection of poems printed beside David Harker’s drawings, which explore the relationship between the built and natural environment and recall places once visited and experienced. The work is presented as a collaboration with Tamar Yoseloff. We might add that ‘Nowheres’ never get much of a press, or any press at all unless we force the issue. And we know since Eliot that meaning is necessary to poetry only as a sop for the conscious mind while the poet burgles the rest of it. The collection is both work-in-progress and ‘open-ended narrative’. Some of the drawings will become landscape paintings. The poems give us a ‘he’ and, sparingly, a ‘she’ but mostly they will explore the nature of line-making, as the drawings do. This is shown in ‘Ruin’, where the pale clipped shadows of main lines appear to the right of the text. It is all about process rather than relying on meaning in the usual sense of the word. Nevertheless it tells us something. ‘He’ is on a journey; he senses the past; there is a death and an aftermath, and there is a ‘Crime Scene’ at the end where the sequence returns to the tercets with which it begins, after a series of short prose poems.
The fragments search for ghosts in the absences. The past is pickled in the places – be they scrubland or ancient ruin – and there’s a suggestion that built environments, once departed, leave deeper silences than natural ones. Fin de siecle ‘Romantic’ then. The opening poem AL 151 accompanies a pale line drawing of scrubland which is also exhibited (though not printed here) as a painting:
no one cares. On their way to somewhere else – there must be somewhere else.
This place is the definition/ of nowhere…a place of industry/ failed… The second poem, ‘Ruin’ (Where there was a door, now/a black gasp’ has a louder final line: where we went wrong. Next is ‘Isle of Grain’ where even the name’s not right and it’s not even an island, concluding with:
Last stand. The wind calls, keeps calling. There’s nowhere to go but away.
It’s the kind of bleakness that Tamar Yoseloff has always handled well. If we piece together some kind of relationship in the narrative, ‘An Englishman’s Home’, which follows, is serious fun. The poem is three pieces of hedge (shaped as in the drawing) in which His wife says/ the hedge blocks/ the light; he likes/ the gloom of the/ lounge at dawn. We’ve all been there. The journey outward is by train (He searches for a view from the window but receives only his reflection, twice). The past is visited via the memory of a child from a troubled family, punctuated by the loss of a father which is accompanied by a magnolia in full bloom. A dreamscape tells that he wakes before he can reach the sea. He’s searching for a ruin on an OS map but the field he stands in doesn’t seem to exist. Later, when he finds her picture on the internet, he makes no contact but remembers a scene in which He closed his eyes and saw her dark outline, the trace of her.
By now both the poems and drawings are becoming as spiky as a Torquay Palm, the one that makes him think he is an alien, and that he’s never really been at home anywhere. In the penultimate drawing and poem, we see a monument in Greece where he’s unable to take a picture of what his father would have called a pile of stones. He realizes that He has become his father. He wonders when it was he lost his curiosity. The final ‘Crime Scene’ is of a comfy-looking suburban house with a grand frontage and a cave for a hall. In the room at the back, a poster of Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows is fading as we speak:
You can almost hear them as they rise with a single shriek, a black cloud shadowing earth.
We’re never short of evocative imagery, and there’s something chilling about the enterprise. Tamar Yoseloff combines neatness with a raw energy that is at times more assertive than the understated artwork, at other times very much at one with it. And there’s a dark humour resulting from the uneasy feeling that all of this is being viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. It may be voyeuristic but we’re too far away to be sure
John Forth grew up in Bethnal Green and now lives by the sea in North Somerset. Low Maintenance: New & Selected Poems was published by Rockingham in Spring 2015 (and has recently been reviewed on London Grip).