For The Love Of It, David Constantine
Smith/Doorstop, 2018 £5.00
These are poems about love of the everyday, about paying attention to ways of seeing, observing, sharing. They delight in activities that are done, not out of duty or obedience to orders, but out of the full human heart: things done for love.
Because these are poems, there’s also love of language and its play across the page, its light and shadows, how it connects us to each other and to the past.
‘I will hold you in the light’, the opening piece, uses two phrases in counterpoint —‘I will hold you in the light’ and ‘You are in my light’. The first is about the tenderness of remembering:
Between long absences having met again
Taking her leave she would say, I will hold you in the light
And has gone now where there’s none.
It’s not a phrase that was used in my family but the second was, exactly as Constantine shows it here —
I remember watching my mother or her mother darn or sew
And that if I stood watching too close she would say to me
You are in my light, love, I can’t see.
Windows were smaller then, and the light they admitted was precious; no plate-glass patio windows to flood a room with sunlight. If you lived in a cottage, or in a narrow street that sunlight didn’t enter, there was little natural light. For close work you needed it unshadowed, unblocked. Who says this now? We have daylight bulbs, and some lamps are brighter than day. Yet the words, as Constantine balances them, bring back domestic closeness, the care we had to take for each other, not to stand in the way of mending. Perhaps ‘mending’, at the literal level, has gone too, apart from an older generation.
These two domestic idioms bring back the unwritten teachings from childhood, illuminated by time. Such memories weave through the pamphlet until the final poem, with its ‘shadow-play on the screen // Of my shut lids […]’. It’s a gentle and kindly ending.
D A Prince