Pinecoast, John Clegg
Hazel Press, 2021 £10.00
Pinecoast’s fourteen poems divide neatly into named halves —‘Pine Coasts’ and ‘Ghost Lines’. Ghosts always intrigue me with their shape-shifting and their tenuous connections to the ‘real’ world. That point where a ghost slips out of sight makes a good story, whether in prose or poetry.
There are conventions to follow. The setting must be solidly tangible and believable so that the ghost — that unearthly and irrational element — is also credible. The best ghostliness, for me, is an unexplained happening that slides into the ordinariness of everyday living.
Which is why Clegg’s second poem, ‘Arturumque etiam sub terris bella moventem’, haunts me. Not the title — which is a quotation from John Milton’s Mansus (1638) and not the easiest of titles to remember — but for how the poem becomes a twenty-first century tale. Clegg doesn’t translate the Latin so much as explain it in the opening stanza —
Milton planned an epic
of King Arthur posthumously
‘fighting battles underground’.
Then he gives us the subject of his own planned epic, a female researcher finding an early draft of Milton’s lost Artur Subterraneis, starting her notes and working on her translation. It’s the end of the afternoon —
The library closed.
She noted classmark, reference number,
next day calls it up:
of the folder — combs
adjacent classmarks, numbers, nothing.
The plainness of the language with its neat detail of library records, the sheer ordinariness of this to an academic, sets off the uncanniness of the disappearance. This can’t happen. But it has.
It also gives Clegg an opportunity to play with language — Albion is now the Alblivion into which Arthur’s world has transformed. Was it an ‘archival/ error’? But the records are there; his researcher has noted them. It leaves Clegg free to wonder what might be going on in Arthur’s now-lost writings.
It’s a poem for anyone who has ever lost a line, or a reference or an idea; something that was definitely there yesterday, written down.