Our restless minds, magicked into poetry
What are the limits of the imaginative mind? Debate about this question creates tension throughout a beautifully wrought sequence of poems. From the outset, the poet is at pains to point out that the animals, plants and objects we observe in the natural world either have no mind, or minds that reflect concerns vastly different to our own.
The robin and the red leaf in the first poem ‘Nonchalant’ set the stage by not ‘minding’ about autumn, by ‘making no fuss’ about dying. In the second poem this idea is even more overt:
Take from a river any thought of endlessness
or death to find it’s only water on its way.
Neither is the tired old moon a mother
or a maiden or a crone.
So any sentience or symbolic meaning attributed to river or moon is, it seems, a projection of our own human mind.
However, as soon as we accept that stance, the poet presents us with the sparrows in the third poem, who ‘think themselves little lords and ladies of the dirt.’
Poem after poem plays with this problem in different ways: what do birds or flowers know? And what do we project — onto owls, yews, horses? We are presented with bluebells that talk and feel pain in ‘High Lees’, followed by ‘Snowdrops’ in which the flowers ‘are doomed to scrutinise’.
The sentience and transformations that the poet ‘magicks’ into being are not restricted to the living. So while a foal may not be capable of ‘knowing’ that it’s limping in one piece, in another a dead fox ‘must be listening for what happens next.’
As a reader I see the justice of both positions and am happy to go along for the ride. Katharine Towers seems to suggest that we can never settle as both reasoning minds and imaginative beings. Although we understand that the world we perceive is our own fiction, we keep trying to communicate something we understand to be true, doomed as the endeavour may be.
The poems insist that such projection is all we have. In the same way as a bird sings, it is what we do, so ‘Breathe in deep. There’s nowhere else to live.’