translating silence, Mike Barlow
weather or knot press, 2020 £4.00
Poetry as meditation
It’s significant that the title is translating silence rather than translated silence. This poetry doesn’t arrive at neat explanations of the meanings of silence. Nor does it draw inferences. Instead, it circles around different forms of silence and leaves space for interpretations to creep in.
The most obvious evidence of this is the poems’ format on the page. Each consists of a small rectangle of text surrounded by blank paper. It’s as if the texts are pebbles dropped into the quiet of the white expanse.
Punctuation, too, is replaced by space:
no wind trees stilled
distant motorway traffic’s river noise
switched off even the river’s
river noise an absence like a thought
slipped under the surface
In these lines, space invokes the stillness of an empty afternoon. It also suggests an underlying tension between things — in this case the river and the road.
Throughout, the poet explores the role of silence in relationships between people and things. One poem, for instance, describes a phone call where there’s a ‘slight delay between / what I say and your reply’, and the speaker’s left ‘listening hard for what it is you’re not saying’.
In this way, the publication acts as a series of meditations on the nature of silence. Refusing to draw solid conclusions, it creates its own silences.
These are minimalist poems which examine the unspoken. They do this all the more evocatively for their spareness.