There is language here
older than human thought
These words, drawn from Autumn Richardson’s recent collection, ‘An Almost-Gone Radiance’, could easily stand as an epigram to the entire work; for therein we enter an intensely immersive exploration of the contemporary landscape. Although the collection is dedicated to some of the northern hemisphere’s last surviving wildernesses; the vast forests and mountains of British Columbia, Ontario, Spain’s Sierra Nevada; at times, we may also discern echoes of Ireland’s rugged Atlantic coast and the bleak uplands of Cumbria.
That said, the overall feel is less that of any specific location, but rather of an encounter with ‘wildernesses’; moreover, at times the ‘action’ takes place on such a viscerally organic, and even geo-psychic, level that we might just as well speak of the micro-landscapes and sub-surface terrains of the poetic imagination.
The collection engages the reader in an extended meditation upon the psychological impact of prolonged immersion in these wilderness, sojourns made all the more intense for being undertaken during the bleak winter months. The poet’s aim, to shed the many layers of enculturation that provide structure and meaning in social life, is undertaken in order to develop a deeper communion with the natural world,
All that I thought had meaning
I’ve unpacked and left by the river.
The outcome, a troubling deconstruction of the persona, facilitates a sustained and beautifully rendered meditation on the transitory nature of forms and their inevitable transmutations,
Pines are shifting
Into crows, the wolf
Is a deer’s viscera.
Processes wherein the poet foresees her own inevitable participation,
Soon my salts will feed
The next short, sharp life.
The four movements that structure the work are not calibrated to celebrate the merely picturesque; but rather, to confront us with nature in the raw, with primal realities,
There is no compassion here, except
that which I carry for small things
Yet still I throw lines into water
to lure what may feed me
The text exudes that existential doubt and uncertainty that inevitably attends any lone encounter with remote and wild places wherein the exaltation of place, its unrestrained freedom, mixes uneasily with an, at times, overwhelming sense of vulnerability and the wariness that it gives rise to,
We must be cautious, for here
we are the same: configurations
of warm blood, and thick with scent.
Nature in the large challenges and exposes the irredeemable porosity of the persona, bound only by the persistence of memories, imaged here as a haunting, fateful presence,
She is a dark bird trailing
Over my left shoulder
The poet, in opening and exploring this solitary path, ponders the possibilities inherent in an almost shamanic dismembering of her own selfhood,
If I emptied myself enough, could I hear
the root-worlds beneath me, imagine the chrysalid’s
inhabitant, its alchemical crossing?
Permitting herself to imaginatively sink into nature’s subcutaneous layers creates a mode of ingress into yet deeper strata of experience and understanding,
grasses I sink
past rhizomes and mycelia
into the low cellars of earth
In the furthermost depths of this nykia-like descent, the persona is finally experienced as having been consumed,
In a pupa of yellow coals
I sacrifice my old lives, old coats.
Become a smoked offering.
The inscape of the poet’s rumination affords her an almost liminal presence, positioned, as it were, betwixt and between; straddling different orders of reality she has earned the right to convey the voices that lay claim to her attention,
The dead draw to my fire.
I need its warmth. They need to seed
flesh with words.
And yet, this necromantic rite, its apophatic vision, the via negativa that is charted for us, proffers no redemption nor any epiphany; rather, it simply accords the honour and respect arising from the heartfelt remembrance due to those long sacrificed selves, the teeming lives that these wildernesses once supported,
where hooves once pounded
and sparked in their millions.
Now it is quiet.
This almost animistic absorption in her surroundings facilitates the mediumistic reception of its many diverse voices; the ancestral dead, the displaced and the dispossessed, whether hunted, culled or simply deprived of the means of survival. The lament of the many disparate manifestations of sentience haunts the landscape,
Here I have learned what loss is
what recovers, what never recovers
and how a revenant host of trees
will hover for centuries beyond
Reminiscent of those tribal rites enacted to repair a breach in the relationship between a people and its natural environment and wildlife, even when that breach occurred in the ancestral past; this fine collection manifests the will to listen, to understand and acknowledge ancient wrongdoing. In doing so, this contribution to the literature of landscape captures a very contemporary malaise; the ‘almost-gone radiance’ of its title and final section acknowledges the imminent, and by now unavoidable, ecological disaster hanging over us all. The collection draws its strength from the repetition and reiteration of its major themes, the warp and weft of words woven carefully together to create a richly textured and immersive experience. This work will continue to reward the attentive reader and provide a powerful source of reflection for a long time to come.
Peter Mark Adams is a professional author specialising in landscape, myth and esoterica. His works include: Mystai: Dancing Out the Mysteries of Dionysos (forthcoming, Scarlet Imprint, 2019); A Guide to the Trumps and Court Cards of the Sola-Busca Tarocchi (Scarlet Imprint, 2017); The Game of Saturn: Decoding the Sola-Busca Tarocchi (Scarlet Imprint, 2017); The Healing Field: Energy, Consciousness & Transformation (Balboa Press, 2014); Altered States / Parallel Worlds (Ceres Yayinlari, 2011). In addition some shorter pieces have appeared in Reliquiae, a literary journal and a range of essays in the peer-reviewed journals Paranthropology and The Journal of Exceptional Experience & Psychology.