Five leaves, 2004 -  £5.00


THE SCENE IS SPAIN, the poems rooted in real places—Mérida, Bilbao, Cáceres, Córdoba—places that glitter like picture postcards. The back cover remarks on how ‘the author moves through the country, carefully commenting on what she sees’. And Michael Bengerter describes Karp as a ‘travel poet’. Both descriptions are accurate, and it’s the travel-poet function which I felt was both strength and weakness in this collection.

In a bare landscape, distinguished only by ‘olive stumps’ Karp can create loveliness even out of what is not quite there: 

          And yet it’s Spring and you can almost hear the warm earth

          pushing up the cobalt bells of borage, spreading

          the mallow, setting bright lavender to sparkle mauve,

          speckling pastures with sudden gold…. 

And in San Vicente de la Barquera: 

          The men rest against bollards smoking;

          they talk of their night at sea.

          The apprentice sits

          shoulders hunched, eyes shut. 

It’s vivid, good writing. Lines like these instill a sudden exotic surprise into an ordinary day. The drawback is that a whole pamphlet of them adds up to a kind of travelogue where it’s easy to flick through carelessly, gradually noticing less. When I look back now at ‘Blooming’, for instance, which has a truly delightful evocation of wilted parsley at a greengrocer’s in Cabezón de la Sal, I wonder how I have forgotten its charm. It disappeared for me somewhere in a rapid journey across landscapes where the form and melody of the lines was not sufficiently intense to call me back.  

Ironically, ‘Conjuro de la Nada’, which is entirely in Spanish (though neither speaking nor reading this language, I am in no position to judge it) struck me, from what remains of school Latin, as much more melodic in its sonorous repetitions than the poems in English. I’d have liked a little more of that quality in the pamphlet as a whole: more melody to underpin the beautiful visual imagery.


Helena Nelson