"But it is easier to think what poetry should be," John Keats remarked, "than to write it -- And this leads me to another axiom -- That if poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all." Philippa Rees is a poet as Keats would have liked: poetry comes to her naturally, abundantly, freshly, wonderfully. She is an outstanding poet. Her great gift is for the striking, even startling, image. Yet for me (and now I can slip into the easier mode of thinking "what poetry should be"), the attempt to use the lyric poem as a vehicle, or rather set of vehicles, in the construction of a connected extended narrative runs into real difficulty. Inevitably, I fear. As the Serbian-American poet Charles Simic has pointed out, the lyric and narrative forms are incompatible. For the building block of the lyric is the image, and the more striking the image, the more it works to arrest time. As a perception that pierces to the very heart of things, the image causes us to stop, to think, to feel, to attempt to integrate, sometimes simply to recover from, what we have just seen. The image subverts the very imperative under which narrative operates, that is to say, the necessity to keep up momentum. To the extent that imagery draws attention to itself -- as it should, perhaps -- it retards the flow of narrative. "A Shadow in Yucatan" is therefore something of a sticky story. Another gifted lyric poet, Derek Walcott, gradually abandons the attempt to write narrative (in his case epic) poetry in his immensely ambitious "Omeros", and allows the lyric, for better or worse, to float the poem. Ted Hughes, in his comic grotesque "Crow", probably the closest thing in poetry to a graphic novel, allows the separate poems to stand as separate panels. Philippa Rees has attempted to write a novella in lyric form, but the poetry tends to operate at the expense of the narrative. Nevertheless, read "A Shadow in Yucatan" for the poetry itself, and you can't go wrong.Philippa
I hesitate to rate my own work at all ( or even mention it) but this book is the one I am truly pleased with. It seemed the sixties was such a seminal time for my generation and I wanted to capture it as evocatively as I could. The story told in these 11.000 words seemed to capture the abundant promise and the eventual tragic disappointment; but the sunlight of that time still remains in the memory, as the greatest opportunity lost. Revisiting that time now is almost tragic, because one cannot help feeling that if its joy had been translated into resolve, we would not now be facing the global disintegration.The true story (told to me on a beach in Yucatan) was mythic in its unfolding, and to honour both its mythic quality and the girl to whom it happened, nothing but poetic prose would do, as musical as I could make it. It was written to honour her.Helen Valentina
I came to Philippa Rees' writing via her blog, and from there to her magnificent Involution, which I have separately reviewed. This poem/novella, which was written before Involution, is a more personal and intimate theme than the grand sweep of the later work, but I can still see the genesis of that work in the intricate, finely drawn emotion, spirituality and sense of humanity and nature within this wonderful lament.It is an ode to a lost age, lost innocence, the narrow visions of changing times but also to the broader, universal love between others - between women together in the world of childbirth and creation, between mothers and children, between the earth and those who walk upon it. Many passages are breath-takingly beautiful. Ms Rees is an accomplished poet. But more than this she delves into the very web and weave of life. Her words will stun you at times with deeper understanding, with epiphanies and relationships you can make between her story and your own life.Her poetry and prose on childbirth is extraordinary - it links with the earth as a living, conscious entity, and displays Creation recognising and supporting other 'creation'. Here I particularly see the seeds of her thesis in Involution. But here I also see the universal within the intimate, the macrocosm in the microcosm, if you will.I came upon Ms Rees' writing by serendipity I think, but such a wonderful discovery! I truly believe I am witnessing the rising of one of the greats. I am a fan forever!