The Island, Chris Considine
Wayleave 2016 £5.00
Poetry pamphlet as island
I was on the Isle of Lewis reading a leaflet about a masters degree in Island Studies when I encountered the word ‘islandness’ for the first time. Islandness is what people who live on islands share, no matter how different the terrain: something one can study and talk about with islanders from all over the world.
So coming to this pamphlet (which centres on one tiny island off the coast of Cornwall) I knew islandness was a quality of both geography and mind. But to my surprise I experienced the act of reading itself as a kind of ‘island’ in consciousness too.
You have to get to Chris Considine’s island by boat. You can’t always manage it either, because it depends on the mood of the sea, and once you’re there, you can’t always leave – for the same reason.
The opening poem introduces you to the challenge of the crossing – ‘the thickset boatman stands shaking his head’, and the final piece brings you back to the mainland – ‘the island fading behind us, mist / on mist, paler and smaller’.
In between, you are in a place of beauty, peace and colour, where the quality of sound and time is different. Better.
One day a mist comes down, so ‘You wouldn’t hear the boatman at the jetty / or on the beach, even if he came’.
Another day, a storm prevents a planned departure:
I unpack my packed bag, put on the kettle,
hope the gas will last. The beamed rooms
have a look of strangeness as if containing,
as well as me, my anticipated absence.
There’s something beautifully inevitable in ‘I unpack my packed bag’, and the idea of those rooms holding an ‘anticipated absence’.
Having savoured the poems one by one, I was going to put the pamphlet away and get on with necessary tasks, but I unpacked my packed plans. I didn’t want to leave ‘the yellow sand / under the sun’s smile’, the fields of daffodils, and ‘the astonished baby / in his orange lifejacket’.
I turned back and started to read again, enriched by islandness.