Friday, 5 December 2008

From the Field Book reviewed by Graham Rippon

from the field book by Carol Thistlethwaite

Illustrations by Tom Adamson

Readers of many magazines will be very familiar with Carol's name and poetry, and of course, her excellent reviews in Carillon, for which she has been a tower of support So it gives me much pleasure to highlight this, her first collection.

The book has a nice feel to it and my copy, though it's been around a bit, still looks good: clearly a quality publication - and matched by its contents (which you would expect with an editor like Sam Smith involved).

The poems emanate from Carol's love of ornithology. Indeed, the contents page reads like a Birds of Britain "Who's Who". Some poems are located in time and space - Lapwings... 5th December 2005, Rufford. etc. Most are not, but you do get the feel of much travelling and much time spent with her book, pen and binoculars in the open air.

Three things stand out: Carol's bird knowledge, her observational powers and her poetic skill. The poetry, firmly paced in a "modern" arena, is replete with technique. But above the technique is the quality and quantity of imagery, action and moods packing these pages. It is difficult to choose examples from the plentiful so I'll pick a couple or so of my personal favourites chief amongst which is Cemlyn Bay a two-verse poem which starts gently:

Just one of those evenings
when mist holds the setting sun
subdues it to an April linnet's blush,
Just one of those dusks
That levels the sea so we can watch...

and then switches in the second half:

then bolt awake
as tern plover jerk and cry alarm...

And then there's the startling, metaphorical Wren:

- a chuck of tiny clockworks
all chiming coils and springs,
ully wound, brand new from the box...

The circling and juxtaposition of men and birds in Gannets off Bass Rock struck me, too:

Circling higher,
seeing further
gannets prey on fish
where a would-be king hunted heir to throne...

which ends with the men circling higher and seeing further, deeper.

One opening line raised an amused eyebrow: Oh Happy Chough: round here, a "Chuff' is definitely not a bird, nor sensible!

We're told that this book gives us the "Jizz". er ... what is "Jizz"? Whatever it is, it seems good, though.

There are no long, tedious poems here. No, they are mostly bite-sized. You can easily imagine them as jottings in a field notebook - which brings us back to the title and, undoubtedly, the poems' solid provenance.

It's a lovely book, perhaps more for dipping into regularly than reading straight through. One for ornithologists? Yes. One for poets? Definitely. And a bargain at the price.

Reviewed by Graham Rippon

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