Monday, March 12, 2018

Tony Conran: Theatre of Flowers (1998)

Spring Quillwort (Isoetes echinospora)

I'm writing this very fast. This collection contains various groups of poems, but I’m only going to talk about nature . Most of the “Theatre of Flowers” group is too fanciful for my needs – I don’t want to say (and this is at its best) of borage


The sepals curl through it

Furry and brown,

Like claws of an animal


or of cranberries


They’re like eyes red

With affliction


though I do see the point.


This is better:


Spry grass. Grey tombs.


(from “September”). OK, so “spry” is a metaphor, but the comparison is hardly visualized and you might say that “spry” is thoroughly re-appropriated to the vegetable world and means “spry in the way of dry breezy grass in the latter end of summer”. That’s more how I think you can use words about grass and even venture a little way into the non-human form of life, but (paradoxically) by evoking how the grass affects the human mind; you draw on a feeling that we already have for other things in our world, a feeling that’s sub-verbal.


Or this, from “Isoetes (Quillwort)”:


On the down-wind

Shore-line of the lake,

Broken quillwort leaves

Lap the gravel.


Even whole corms

Have been torn by the icy


Of the wind


I'm abashed, almost, to be republishing (from 18 years ago) such a paltry note. It certainly does scant justice to Tony Conran, who was a major presence in Welsh literature. (He died in 2013.)

But in defence I wanted to preserve those quotations where I could find them, even the ones I originally criticized. When I copy out poetry, it seems to stick in my memory; and then, as often as not, it starts to become more important to me.

You can buy some of Tony Conran's books on paper, they are still read and written about and indeed performed (by the Conran Poetry Chorus), but all this activity seems to leave remarkably few traces
on the Internet. All I could find was three poems and two translations.

"Jasper", quoted and discussed by Carol Rumens: includes the poem "Pebble", which was read at his funeral. quotes "Beyond This Divide". contains Conran's translation of Taliesyn's "The Battle of Gwen Strad". quotes The Shirt of a Lad: Anonymous Welsh Poem translated by Tony Conran
As I did the washing one day
Under the bridge at Aberteifi,
and a golden stick to drub it,
And my sweetheart's shirt beneath it –
A knight came by on a charger,
Proud and swift and broad of shoulder,
And he asked if I would sell
The shirt of the lad that I loved so well.

No, I said, I will not trade –
Not if a hundred pounds were paid;
not if two hillsides I could keep
Full with wethers and white sheep;
Not if two fields of oxen
Under yoke were in the bargain;
Not if the herbs of all Llandewi,
Trodden and pressed were offered to me –
Not for the like of that I'd sell
The shirt of the lad that I love well.

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