In the Scullery with John Keats, Louise Warren
Cinnamon Press, 2016 £4.99
1. Poet as Painter
There’s a translucent quality to Louise Warren’s poems. Objects and people shine through at an angle. Her four John Keats pieces take the reader on a forage through his Hampstead house and garden where, despite two centuries since his death, something remains of him, ghost-like and yet vibrantly alive:
he licked his fingers and stepped off the grass into the tree
I shall stay here until the spring he said
Again and again Keats slips through her fingers, yet always leaves something tangible behind:
I noticed the ink had spread across the lawn
a scratching sound made me catch my breath.
In the way of great poets, Keats has become part of daily life:
That night I left him at Kentish Town
though I heard his whistle below the road.
Louise Warren has outstanding ability with the brush. Her words are water colours: soft, subtle and unafraid of the white, hidden space that lies beneath experience. In ‘The Drowning of the Levels’:
It began with the trees sliding into their own reflections
and the sky slipping out of its grey skin
into a silvery newborn thing which seemed to appear over night
Upside down the trees floated
all bones in the water
In ‘Cranes’ ‘The sky is the colour of green tea / bright in a porcelain bowl / and all around the edge, cranes’.
I have read and re-read these poems and they remain fresh and vivid. Warren’s fine washes of phrase and simile open up meaning and wonderment in the simplest of things:
The pavement is cracked and a small yellow weed
is somehow miraculous.
2. Drinkable poetry
In the Scullery with John Keats is a memorable title, and there are some excellent poems here. I am trying not to have my Point Of Interest be errors in the copy, though things like apostrophe errors—and in one case ‘coarse’ wrongly-spelt—inevitably caught my eye. These are the sort of typos that (because I am an editor myself) send a cold shiver down my spine. (Authors should never rely on their too-busy editors.)
But forget that—Louise Warren is a poet who can write lines like
Here is a rain that scrapes together the moon’s hair into a puddle.
This is sensual writing—sensual and gloriously surreal. I was sharply aware of the shape and feel of the words in my mouth, and indeed of the number of direct mouth references. In the title poem there’s ‘his mouth sucked in a damp tongue of air’, while in ‘In the Bedroom with John Keats’ ‘his mouth was a locked cupboard’.
In ‘Cranes’, the poet herself is drinking from a beautiful China cup—at least that’s how I imagine it, and the porcelain is decorated with cranes. There’s a whole landscape, in fact, in and around this cup. Incredibly beautiful. And then here’s what happens:
I am swallowing the city in all its fine delicacy.
Taste of spruce, of river, stone.
The first star cracks open on the tip of my tongue, freezes.
It is the sort of poetry you can drink. Delicious. And quite intoxicating.