Kaplinski’s work is direct and simple, often self-deprecating as in his reply to the question asked him about ‘a poet’s day’: “I get up and make porridge for the children…I go to the grocer’s shop… I do the laundry” and so on. On the surface the poetry seems inward, long lists sometimes of things he has done or seen, but they have a habit of opening out suddenly to include the wider world and when they do you experience that shiver of wonder that good poetry can induce: “the night/ is two long black fingers, holding day/ and us in a grip so tight we barely have/room to breathe or think.” Or in a poem about a cockroach found in the bathroom, a poem that lists all the bottles and cans the creature crawls among, Kaplinski surmises “it has an inkling of something/ great and mysterious”. The apparent simplicity of the language too can sometimes take us by surprise: in a sequence about silence we find the startling phrase “the cuckoo/ strikes, as with an axe,/ shavings off the side of time.”
As a contrast , to indulge in richly sensual lyrical writing I’m re-reading the novels and short stories of H.E. Bates. He writes of a farmer’s daughter destined to be unmarried (war is coming) that she will have a “buttery and clovered middle-age”. Coverts in autumn are”golden-brown like long flat encrusted loaves”. Or, of a drooping knicker-leg quickly pulled up “It went up, sharp as a blind in a shop-window”.
His essays too are full of wonderful descriptions: of a frozen water-meadows he writes; On the edge of the marsh the white cat-ice, thin as window-glass, waterless underneath, cracks off like brittle shot in the silent, frozen air.”
His world is of course an older world, of nightingales, cowslip meadows, cuckoos and horses and traps. And early motors. But he was a fine writer: John Betjeman said of his work: “he has a poetic understanding of places rare in one who can also record emotions.” And I am still luxuriating in his words.