Copyright 2021, Arthur L. Wood, Cover design, Hugh Rochfort
Having read Arthur L. Wood’s first collection of poetry, Poems for Susan, with its tender strains of love poetry and its far-reaching set of influences, one might be at least partially prepared for his second collection, Scarlet Land. Here also, there is sometimes tenderness of language, and the influences, both submerged and spoken of directly, are equally far-flung. But the tenderness here is more tempered with a certain cynicism, an acquired knowledge of more of the world in the tone, a certain sated weariness from time to time in the language, which yet does not make the poetry dull-witted with rancor or wearisome to read.
In Scarlet Land, the poet as a figure has not only the topic of love to contend with; he is also embattled in that same sensation of love, embattled in society, in poetic invention, in many things. And of course, in the background lurks always the awareness, like Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire, of being a poet in a condition or time of disease: just as in 2020, Covid appeared in Poems for Susan overtly, here it appears more insidiously, in the background as one is aware of the unhealthy influence. There are songs of dismay at modern conditions:
I cannot find my England. Does she lie in dust I sweep, Does she hide away in sunshine, in darkness does she creep, Does she hum a pagan melody and converse with the stars, Is she frightened by the madness and the music from the bars? I cannot find my England.
There are poems investigating or betraying to view a poet’s states and choices:
What more can I do? I've channelled the poets, I've died so many times, Yet so few are listening; I've written ten thousand Miraculous rhymes-- What more can I do? ************************** So many great poems! What more can I do? Tell me, would you please tell me, Because I haven't a clue-- I get up each morning, I shower and dress, Then die many times; Another call centre Awaits me, I guess. ************************* Or, taking a line through Milton, more affirmatively: ************************* Let my body starve! Let my soul rejoice! I cannot fail my task, I must be precise! I'll reinvent the songs With the trumpet of my voice, And pave the path of poesy That leads to paradise!
Raymond Keene, OBE, comments in his Foreword to the book that this is “fraught territory,” and indeed, in this book, the poet allows himself to be used nearly as the canary in the coal mines is used, who is the barometer (if he lives or if he dies) of whether or not there are unseen and dangerous substances being breathed by those around him. It is certainly in Scarlet Land a more “fraught” mental and moral landscape than in the previous book.
As to the structure of the poetry, Wood has always been good at achieving a sense of closure of the poetic material, regardless of whether the poem ends on a refrain, on a variation of a previous statement, or even if the contained sentiment diverges from the poetic shape by not being conclusive. He has also not disappointed in continuing his genius with metering and rhyming, though there are herein a bit more of poems in blank verse.
Sprinkled throughout, though not devoted to any one individual love by name as was the case in the previous book, there are still some hopes given out for the persistence of human love. The characteristic love poem here now occurs in spite of negative conditions, not so much in the absence of them as was the case in Poems for Susan:
While We Love
The world of raging fire, The cold and dark abyss, The fluctuating chasm, Are nothing while we kiss. The lake of burning sinners, The acid in the sky, The hole within the middle, Are nothing while we sigh. The steel-whitened seaweed, The limping one-eyed dove, The corpse upon the mountain, Are nothing while we love.
All in all, though the poetic voice is often strained here, the poet frustrated in the extreme to the point of sketching it all out for the reader, we see here a more complicated and mature poetic schema than before. Poems for Susan was an astounding and magnificent book, but it was the poet’s courtship of his subject and his talent; Scarlet Land is the beginning of his alchemical marriage to the same.
Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)