TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK 6: PETER ROBINSON
Peter Robinson was born in Salford, Lancashire, in 1953 and grew up mainly in Liverpool. He is an internationally appreciated poet, whose Collected Poems was published by Shearsman Books in 2017, and has been awarded the Cheltenham Prize, the John Florio Prize, and two Poetry Book Society Recommendations for volumes of his poetry and translations. The Salt Companion to Peter Robinson edited by Adam Piette and Katy Price appeared in 2007 and a new volume of critical studies edited by Tom Phillips, Peter Robinson: A Portrait of his Work, is in development at Shearsman.
He has also published aphorisms, short stories, literary fiction, and his six volumes of literary criticism are in print from the university presses of Oxford, Cambridge, and Liverpool. Two Rivers Press has brought out two of his collaborations with artists: English Nettles with illustrations by Sally Castle appeared in 2010, and Bonjour Mr Inshaw, with paintings by David Inshaw, is one of this year’s books. Two Rivers Press also publishes Foreigners, Drunks and Babies: Eleven Stories (2013) and his second novel, The Constitutionals (2019), whose main character takes daily walks around Reading to help recover from a cruel virus. Peter Robinson is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and the poetry editor for Two Rivers Press.
“My poetry, and much of my other writing, can be understood as an exploration of the word ‘repair’. It is a form of sheltering from experiences, and an emblem of the need to mend or make amends when selves and others have been damaged or harmed. This theme is regularly and appropriately associated with my being the witness at gunpoint to an act of sexual violence over forty years ago, which has impacted on all my work and in particular on a sequence of poems in The Other Life (1988) and the novel September in the Rain (2016).
However, it is probably unlikely that I would have responded to that experience in those ways had I not been born into the exact locations of L. S. Lowry’s paintings and brought up in a series of impoverished urban parishes in Manchester, Wigan, and Liverpool. The industrial and domestic architecture and the ravaged and re-wilding natural scenery of those places has shaped all my responses to the world, and I have taken the need to find artistic interest in such textures with me to scenery as far flung as the mountains, plains, cities and coasts of northern Italy and the volcanic landscapes of northern-eastern Japan.
My wife, Ornella Trevisan, who specialised in environmental biology at university, has undoubtedly helped enlarge the scope of that commitment to reparation and ‘repair’. If asked to give an account of my many and various writings produced and published over the best part of half a century, I would think that this dominant thought, derived from the art theories of Adrian Stokes, has been the shaping spirit that has compelled me to want to produce works that aid in the mending of ourselves, our societies, the inhabited environments on which they depend, and of the suffering world itself.”
AT SLADER’S YARD
There’s a corrugated-iron roof,
its undulations flattened
by settled years of lime-green moss;
it juts into repurposed space
where stone-wall textures are revealed,
enhanced by sparser finishes,
framed pictures hung against it:
a dusk cloud risen behind a hill,
the portrait of one tree in moonlight,
another strafing seagull …
They emphasize the edges
letting on bare sail-loft opposite:
a dried grey wood interior
where all the thrifty meanings start.
Then, me too, I’m a counter of clouds
come over the hills like this one
‘salmoning’ in a ‘deepening blue’;
they fill up turning windscreen glass
(you see I’ve put the car in too)
above West Bay’s horizon
with a borrowed sharpness, focus
from promptings given by
that pink house under its precipitous cliff.
Recounting them, you’re at least alive to
how this word-cloud builds and disperses
ideas like a Nordau’s or Lombroso’s –
and how they’re clouds themselves, these verses.
[from Bonjour Mr Inshaw, 2020]
THIS OTHER LIFETIME
Green shutters open on an early sky;
in the Casa Divina Provvidenza
even its room doors, closing, breathe a sigh.
With time, heat would release your love,
till evening’s fresher breeze,
then starlight, the companionate,
and talking on a phone, you see
her hurry towards our rendezvous
beside Mazzini’s statue in the square:
an open face, still trusting as you like,
enlivened with enthusiasm,
unfazed by time and, no mistake,
that’s the zone from where all this life came.
[First published in The London Magazine, February-March 2020]