Sunday, 3 April 2011

Figure in a Landscape by Anna Crowe

Mariscat’s simple, restrained production of Anna Crowe’s pamphlet is appropriate to this short collection of poems inspired by ‘Paisatge amb figueres’ (Landscape with fig trees), by Catalan sculptor Andreu Maimo. As it came out of the envelope I was immediately entranced by the rich dull ochre of the cover and the secretive density of Maimo’s drawing of fig leaves on the cover.
The poems are just as much a treat.  Anna Crowe has written in memory of her sister, but Maimo’s art provides the meditative focus for the poems.  I love the way both poet and artist  circle around and around the same theme, revisiting and re-examining.  The poems are deeply thought-about, and moving.  They often have an intense sadness and regret, but their exactness keeps them from any tilt towards sentimentality:

‘Thursdays were jours de conge

for girls of the Cour Bastide
so we hid among the branches
to watch the kids of the ecole communale
At break the boys would chase
long lines of girls
their screams of joy
(we knew we must never scream)
a froth of petticoats
that broke like surf
on our silent wall’

With ease the poems evoke landscape, climate and places of Mallorca and Marseille:
‘Fig trees in front of Can Cabana
their green skirts making tents of shade
in a field of shimmering wheat’
Explorations of childhood memory are set against the poet’s voice now, resonant with intelligence and resilience.  Wisdom, in fact.
Anna’s poem ‘Doves, fig tree and walls’ was chosen by Jen Hadfield as one of the ‘Best Scottish Poems 2010’.  Hurray, well deserved.  Here it is, complete.  What a fabulous last stanza: the sense of what’s gone still travelling, full of hope, not knowing its fate,

'High walls, mute, shuttered windows:
La Cour Bastide
In the shady yard at break
in the hubbub of strange language
others chalked the grid of la marelle
numbered the spaces 1, 2, 3
then halfway L'ENFER
then 4, 5, 6 to the dome at the end LE CIEL
Aiming the stone
we ventured our small attempts with
awkward as geese on bumpy ground
we tried not to land in hell
Throw by throw
words, whole phrases
crept from between the lines
trembled like lizards in the cracks of walls
then flew like the stone from our throats
Sometimes our words drew smiles
as kind as the fig tree
in the box-hedged garden
of Madame la Directrice
–A toi le tour! –A moi? –Oui, oui
Lance ta pierre! Vas-y!

But now you have thrown your stone
far beyond these walls
and I imagine it flying
like one of Andreu's doves
into that blue

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