Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Botanic Press/Essence Press, 2006 - £5

This book is long on concept (literally taking the form of a French window) as well as ambition, but despite occasional flashes of brilliance—as charming and unpredictable as new birds alighting on the lawn—ultimately falls short of its goal, to provide luminous access to both the poet’s creative state of mind and the play of the natural world which feeds it. There are moments in the poem, a pamphlet-length meditation on nature and the writing life viewed through the prism of a year in the garden, which sing with controlled energy: 

            opening the ibook

                 this morning

            found a blade of grass

                 on the touchpad

 Or, on another page:

 

            in the 2 minutes’ silence

                 for those killed by the bombs

                      blue tits perch on the clothes line

                              take turns

                              at the ball of fat                       

Here we see the delicately observed interaction of man and environment, the ongoing life of a natural world undisturbed by unnatural slaughter in the human sphere. Such moments occur with reasonable frequency in Window on the Garden.

    However, there is a great deal of less interesting and even pedestrian material in between the epiphanies, as well as a tendency to editorialise on themes suggested by Thoreau which are not followed through (“does the garden read me/as I try to read it?” is one such interesting premise dropped in, then abandoned). I felt that passages of genuine quality were subverted by their context, a bit like a Hilliard miniature hung in some Heath-Robinson frame knocked together from bits of driftwood. Such passages have the flat feel of reportage rather than the zing of lived, crafted experience.

    Overall, the book is perhaps an accurate reflection of the garden it commemorates: vibrant, inspiring, even profound at times, but a little unsatisfying if you stare at it for too long.

James Roderick Burns

 

The Common Reader says of Window on the Garden:

 

The format of this pamphlet is quite different from most because it is long and slim and the layout inside is not in the form of verses of poetry. Punctuation is minimal.  There are page numbers and breaks denoted by what looks like little leaf symbols.  The symbol is in keeping with the themes: seasons coming and going, plant life and wild life and the writer’s garden. It reads like a diary and like all diaries the ordinary and mundane blend together with the stark reality. There are gentle observations aplenty. There are also references to the violence that takes place outside the garden.

I thought that fond memories of how the garden was formed were an insight into how precious this garden has come to be: 

                        that forsythia

    —carried from Glasgow back court

to Edinburgh kitchen window

tended and talked to by you

carefully planted in the garden—  

I enjoyed spending time in Whyte’s garden. I did wonder though if the writer believed the garden could shut out the badness in the world.

 

            in the 2 minutes’ silence

                for those killed by the bombs

                    blue tits perch on the clothes line

                           take turns

                           at the ball of fat

 

These lines seem to imply that no matter what is happening elsewhere, the garden and its wildlife remain untouched. It’s a lovely idea if it works l