Ludovic Press, 2007 - £5.00
Pastoral poetry often misses the point but, in this handsomely produced chapbook, Jim Carruth cuts straight to the true heart of life on the land.
In the opening poem, ‘Homecoming’, the poet drives towards the family farm after years abroad, realising that even for him the countryside has become something glimpsed from a motorway:
Strains of rye-grass are broad-brushed fields;
greens and yellows merged, at speed.
I want to learn again the art of careful detail.
And in the poems that follow, it’s Carruth’s eye for careful detail that brings High Auchensale to life.
The collection is divided into two parts. First is ‘The Well’, which holds memories of childhood on the farm. The idyllic picture of a country upbringing is here, certainly, but it’s balanced by the painfully compelling ‘Drowning Kittens’, and by ‘Tatty Howker’s Daughte’r:
I searched for words
to name you
and found them in
small hawk’s shadow
cob’s ragged mane
blaze of gorse
Life in a small community has its seamier side, and others name the girl “Filthy Midden Tink”.
The second section, ‘Whin Fields’, is set in the post-return present. Farmers who seemed immutable landmarks are old and frail; a new housing estate advances towards the farm at night; a terrified heifer is released onto the motorway. But barn owls still swoop silently over the fields, a stranded ewe is rescued to bear the new year’s lambs, and father and son reunite to bring in the cows:
Two voices in the failing light
calling out together.
Carruth’s unerring choice of imagery and his ability to tap the poignancy that underlies the everyday without resorting to sentimentality result here in a collection that’s sharp and tight, but at the same time beautiful and evocative. I will return to High Auchensale again and again.
The pamphlet can be ordered from www.scottish-pamphlet-poetry.com
The Young Reader says of High Auchensale:
It really is simple and beautiful. The cover wasn’t ambitious, neither was it weak. It knew what it was and looked good.
I have to say that further on I felt absolutely, exactly the same. I was still enjoying it and had no intention of stopping enjoying it till it finished. At that point, I was rather sad that it had ended. The order of the poems was in my view perfect, it pulled me into the book with an easy, good starting poem and finished with a magnificent ending poem. If I had to choose my very favourite poems, this review would be absolutely too short.
And what The Common Reader had to say:
The first thing I noticed was that it was well-organised and very well-produced. To a common reader, ‘well-produced’ means the paper was of good quality and the two sets of poems were clearly listed and in order, so it was easily navigated. I also liked the plain typeface. ‘Tapestry’ is a wonderful poem. I found it very moving that someone should watch their mother’s hands performing tasks over so many years and then, much later on, the ending is:
My daughter watches today
Through a new canvas
I liked the continuity of this because it’s another generation now sitting watching. I loved all the poems about High Auchensale, apart from ‘Drowning Kittens’. Carruth’s writing is plain but never ordinary.