Claire Booker reviews ‘John Dust’: poems by Louise Warren, ink drawings by John Duffin

 

 

 

Poetry comes from a deeply personal inner landscape. But what happens when external geographies bring their own emotional and social clout to the party?

Enter John Dust – the riveting personification of Louise Warren’s native Somerset. Dust feels dangerous, fascinating, unstable, yet deeply rooted – a magical legerdemain by Warren, who gives us a Green Man for the modern age.

Prepare to be charmed, hoodwinked, even seduced by Dust, who is:
“. . . narrow as a pipe, face like a clay bowl

choked-up, stony-broke
chest blown open like a sunset . . .
coat stuffed with apples
coat stuffed with horsehair, tied round with sail rope
coat bursting open, burst out the linings
sodden green ditches, pricked through with heron,
pierced through with willow, bloody and wasted . . .”

His landscapes entwine us in their smells and sounds, their atmospheres and memories, like lovers:

“ . . . Deep inside the bathroom I undress myself for you,
John Dust.
Down to the sedge and water, down to the beak of me,
Sharp in the reed bed, down to the hidden.
I strip the light from my skin until I am overcast,
Become cloud cover . . .”

Warren’s imagery is lively and surprising, her rhythms inventive, with a sure use of repetition. Sometimes the pamphlet reads like a song; sometimes like a botanist’s memoir. Often, it’s playful – even tongue-in-cheek. Always relishing the vibrancy of words.
“. . . the sky rusting over, smashed with egg yolks,
water as mirror, water as leather, water as smoke, as trick,
a light under the door.”

John Dust poems rub shoulders with others that reflect the surreal, the uncanny edge to life – and death. ‘Woman with small dog’ tells of a 1,700 year old burial find in the Museum of Somerset. In others, Warren turns herself into a bird or a fox; discovers synaesthesia in a wood; finds meaning in the death of a fly:

“How beautiful and delicate he is in death
laid out on the white afterlife
like a god, a fly on the sill
in a tapestry of cup rings.”

She tips her hat to Elliot in ‘East Coker’, and in a series of five poems ‘The Parish Magazine’, offers hilarious thumb-nail portraits of village life. ‘5 Riddles’ challenges the reader to look under the bonnet of each poem for its double meaning (spoiler alert: answers on page 30!)

Perhaps most moving of all, a nine line poem inspired by finding her late father’s old OS map, shows Warren at her most observant and understated. Could John Dust himself be an echo of what she hopes to find again? Landscapes, old maps – these are the tracks we follow when seeking things lost to us.

“some kind of weather is trapped here – damping, a cloud
from the 30s, pressed onto the page – vapour thin fog expanding –
some kind of man is trapped here – his back to me smoking –“

 

 

Claire Booker lives in Brighton. Her pamphlet Later There Will Be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press and a second is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams. Her work has appeared in Ambit, Magma, Poetry News, Rialto and The Spectator among others. www.bookerplays.co.uk

 

Order your copy of John Dust by Louise Warrant (V. Press) here: http://vpresspoetry.blogspot.com/p/bookshop.html

 

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