The Violin Forest, Katherine Towers
HappenStance Press, 2019 £5.00
All the wood’s a stage
I pick up Alice Oswald usually when I want someone to tell me what’s happening in the woods. I can happily pair Katharine Towers with her after reading these poems. The woods are a stage for small tragedies of thwarted potential: flowers throb with thoughts we will never know (in ‘Snowdrops’ ‘Their little lamps can shed no light’) but in their limited capacity for expression the bluebells flash ‘violet and dauntless’ (‘High Lees’). The owls also think, a dead fox listens — even the falling leaves have minds attributed to them.
In this theatre of suspended disbelief the frequent repetition of short, simple, Anglo-Saxon words creates an effect like the noise of rain falling. I read as if in a trance, cover to cover, then back again. I joined the poet in denying the hard boundaries of death and life, animate and inanimate objects. In this world, a train and a horse enact a tiny story of missed connections:
A train looks up at a long white horse.
The horse looks back; the train is gone.
[‘Horse and Train’]
Death is a change that can be survived. Trees are cut down to be turned into violins, harmoniums, and the process is not about loss or pain. In ‘Peckham Rye’, ‘An oak tree has magicked into a lamp.’
The dawn chorus in the woods is captured by an ‘oak and walnut four-pedal grand’ (in ‘For Example’) and the only sign that any brutality might be involved in felling those trees is where the meaning of ‘break’ slips in the last lines of that poem: ‘you’ll hear dawn break / like the bones in a hand’.