Eerie poetry from northwest England's woods; Ways Through Bracken, by Thomas A. Clark. The Jargon Society (distributed by Gnomon Distribution, PO Box 106, Frankfort, Ky. 40502). $7.50.
Thomas Clark persuades us that the "bilberries" in one of his poems are "more than fruit." In another, we feel we've heard a leaf rustle. But we look back a page and not a one was mentioned, just a "dry river/of boulders." This strangeness doesn't scare us, but we know we're in an eerie zone.Invisible flowers exhale pungent scents. Inaudible football can be heard.
The language of Gloucestershire poet Thomas Clark seems to be made of glass instead of words; we see right through it. Twigs never "snap," stars never "glimmer," and rivers never "run." As a result, the "bilberries" of the opening poem, discovered after a struggle over the rugged terrain of his verse, are "more than fruit," as the poet tells us. We see and taste them in a way we never could if they came packaged in conventional images.
"Ways Through Bracken" breaks through the limits of descriptive language and present nature in its primitive beauty. Each of the five poems in this work offers a "way" over a different kind of countryside. But each also investigates the "way" in which hope and imagination can animate language and make poetry oddly suggestive.
The poems, suspended in four-to six-line units over a dozen pages or so, each suggest a place. "Hard Knott" takes us up a stony river bed, over a dry waterfall and through "gullies eternally/in shadow." "Cat Leap Fall" leads down a valley to a glacier-formed hollow and an underground cave. "Tongue Scar" follows a zig-zag path to an ancient, "crag-defended, double-moated fort." Yet they tell even more about the disposition of their speaker.
The epigraph from Heraclitus provides a key. "If a man does not hope, he will not find the unhoped for, since there is no trail leading to it and no path." In this little volume, Clark describes these "ways," accessible only because the imagination chooses, not just to walk, but to wonder at each original turn in an uninterpreted, unconventionalized world.
Clark's poems scintillate in range of colors. And yet he rarely uses the name of a shade or hue to create this effect: etched impressions of place and relation expand the register of sensations.In one of the few cases where he actually does use a color term as an adjective, it invades the territory of the noun: suddenly we have just "the last/Edge of green/downstream," the weight of a green thing unnecessary.
The Jargan Society, publisher of "Ways Through Bracken," was praised for its daring by William Carlos Williams. Founded in 1950 by poet Jonathan Williams, the society is dedicated to what the elder poet called the "chance that has to be taken" not to miss "rare excellence." The press published Denise Levertov, Kenneth Patchen, and Henry Miller (among others) before the larger houses discovered them.
"Ways Through Bracken" makes an impressive addition to the Jargon list. It wrenches our thinking out of tracks -- conventional ways -- and sets before us a new world, hard earned of attentiveness to the quality o f small things.