Poetry review – PLATO’S PEACH: Carla Scarano reflects on John Freeman’s conversational and story-telling poems
Conversational poetry is a thoughtful and insightful method for exploring and meditating on objects, events and relationships. John Freeman develops this style in impeccable prosody with fresh and interesting topics and engaging situations. He presents a journey of self-discovery that opens up unusual perspectives. The conversations are sometimes personal and intimate, but at other times they occur in casual encounters or revisited memories. They express thoughts, telling stories in a process that helps understand people and the environment. They make sense of what is around us but the emphasis is more on the process than in a possible final conclusion. Attentive observations and detailed descriptions shape the characters and the situations in flowing enjambments:
I have been put on earth to write about them, to preserve, not just their memory, but them. Under the dull routines of daily living I have seen, and once I’ve seen it can’t un-see, the welling up of an unending richness. This secret source makes all the details precious; the source wouldn’t be real without the details. (‘Marching Orders’)
Curtains or a square of chocolate evoke emotions, triggering a story that evolves in complex yet clear reasonings. This analysis is both personal and universal; it is a revelation of sorts that is caused by a situation or an object that is similar to the objective correlative we find in the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Eugenio Montale:
What I have got to say means I must tell you about a square of Cadbury’s milk chocolate, dropped by my big brother and our hero, Michael, between his bed and mine early one morning, when he was pushing thirteen. I was five. […] So there I am in the morning, waking up, and there is Michael saying, happy birthday, passing me a square from an eight-ounce slab of chocolate which I reach to take from him (‘A Square of Chocolate’)
The title poem, ‘Plato’s Peach’, is highly symbolic in its approach to Plato’s concept of ideas or forms that are perceived by the mind and, at the same time, experienced by the senses:
I wonder whether Plato got his notion of ideal archetypes of everything from early memories of first encounters, such as the time a woman dressed in black offered him a peach out of her basket […] the most enormous, dark, perfectly ripe and yet not over-ripe example of a peach he’d ever seen, and so he took it, and felt the weight of it, and saw the bloom on its dusky red and purple, almost black, silky covering and began to eat it
Plato himself developed his philosophy in dialogues, that is, in conversations between different characters, as Freeman does in his poems. The poem ends with a personal experience in the south of France when the poet was offered a peach too by a woman in mourning.
Trees are recurring images; they are human-like creatures that have healing qualities and represent a vital force that grants life. They restore harmony and involve the protagonist in a rhythm, a movement and a spirit that are fulfilling and soothing:
I seemed to be enclosed and taken up into their company like a tree myself, standing there long enough to feel I knew what it would be like to stay forever. (‘Brinsop Poplars’)
The collection includes some ekphrastic poems about the artworks of, among others, Paul Nash and Claude Monet. The conversation in these poems is about the pictures, the painter and possible references to the literary world. Therefore, they are not just descriptions of the artwork but go beyond it, to the root of the composition and the story behind it. Monet’s work is evoked after a visit to Giverny. Freeman admires the ‘exuberant glory’ of the environment reflected in the artist’s pictures. He describes his own progress through the house that absorbs the light and the surrounding colours, noticing objects from different angles and taking photos. It is a surprising journey that leads to a personal and intuitive understanding of Monet’s work. It suggests a vision of the house and garden that is real but also very mysterious:
What do I see I didn’t see before? The solid underpinning of what’s there, its three dimensions, its substantial Being. The sense of weightlessness, and of extent obscured and yet implied by the four edges of the canvas, is now counterpointed by a greater sense of incarnation as well as spatial limits. The energy materiality and presence possess made it worth the bother of going there. (‘After Monet’)
There is a sense of transformation; it is the artistic touch that transforms the real into the ‘unreal’ or into a better ‘real’ that suits our imagination. It is a vision that is both idealised and true at the same time.
The last section, ‘Time Perpetually Revolving’, is a meditation on death that is a generous and insightful remembrance of friends, family, artists and authors who have passed away. The awareness of being mortal is not final; it merges with and evolves into a belief and consciousness that ‘everything good that happens will shine everlastingly.’ It is an ‘act of giving-receiving’, an ‘energy passing between us’ that allows communication and community and therefore continuity.