from The Evidence, Ian Pople

The Melos Press, 2019          £5.00

Painting with poetry

Occasionally when reading this pamphlet I struggled to garner direct meanings or break through seeming obscurity. I soon realised, however, that Pople uses language much as an artist uses paint. To try to force these poems to convey clear ‘meanings’ or ‘messages’ is perhaps to miss out on the ways in which the language creates vivid images and atmospheres. This is a richly visual pamphlet, image-dense and woven with sensual detail.

No wonder, then, that many pieces here are ekphrastic, responding to named artists. In poems like ‘The Deposition and Rolling Away of the Stone’ (which responds to Stanley Spencer) or ‘Imaginary Prisons’ (in response to Giovanni Battista Piranesi), the language cleverly mimics and embodies the original artist’s work.

In ‘The Deposition and Rolling Away of the Stone’, the layered detail of the language equals Spencer’s depictions of the crucifixion. Pople describes ‘how the nails / squeeze from the wood, the flesh // slipping off.’

In ‘Imaginary Prisons’, each one of the fifteen lines is composed of a single sentence, giving an effect similar to Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s intricate, dizzying sketches of apparently unending prison interiors.

This intense visuality extends even into poems which are less directly ekphrastic. Motifs abound in the title sequence, with bridges, apples, water, tents, keyholes and abacuses — to name just a few — creating an intricately textured and visual experience. In ‘Mitteleuropa’, image follows image to create a character portrait of both a place and a person — the ‘waitress’ with ‘her elegant / acquired face’.

Most striking of all, perhaps, in ‘Hang Gliders with Saxophones’, is the surreal vision of saxophone music representing hang gliders in flight. The image of ‘saxophones’ ‘in the air / above the moor’ seems almost reminiscent of Dalí’s bizarre and arresting work.

This is poetry which attempts to redefine the very purpose of words.

Isabelle Thompson