Alphabet Poems, Mary Robinson

Mariscat Press, 2019  £6.00

The landscape of the heart

To the complaint, 'There are no people in these photographs,' I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer
                                                                — Ansel Adams

‘Technopaegnia’ or the art of ‘shaped’ poems embeds the visual meaning into the writing, carrying it physically as well as metaphorically or symbolically to become, something deeper. For the reader, observing the landscape of such poems, where does the eye travel across the page? What does it settle on first? Where does the focus lie — on the image, the visual appearance or the words? Which aspects expose the meaning further?  Does the mind always agree with the eye?

After a month of sporadic thinking, and almost sitting on the task of writing this OPOI for too long, I went back to reading Mary Robinson’s poems and observing how I negotiated meaning. As an example, I’ll refer to a poem based on the letter ‘H’.

Shaped as a capital H, visually this poem offers challenges for both the eye and the mind. When I first stumbled on it, the visual image was striking enough to pull me into reading it and when I came back to it after a prolonged gap of almost a month, I realised this poem moved me the most out of the entire collection.

Automatically (because we read in English from left to right) my eye started at the left, tracing the shape of the first stroke we make when writing the letter ‘H’, a straight line. This first line highlights the subject, using a quotation from Robert Frost to guide us into the symbolism enacted both in the shape and the idea of the fence as the letter ‘H’.


If I say every single word, line and choice of shape and position is compelling I won’t be wrong because the poem hits deep, laying out the landscape of the heart:

A line. On which is written the language
of dispute, the vocabulary
of separation.

Such borders we weave, crafted in the image of love and hate, acceptance and rejection — and this single piece speaks eloquently on the subject of conflict.

The poem, despite the absence of a person or people, offers a universal theme that can be explored and interpreted by each reader uniquely based on their individual experiences with conflict. The fence is a metaphor that carries this idea well but the use of the fence-like letter-shape ‘H’ to highlight these makes it more than striking. I will not forget it.

Shalini Pattabiraman