The collection Horizons draws on the work which Jo Rippier has been publishing for several decades, work of great elegance and simplicity. His poems are seldom longer than a page but within that brief space they contain a great deal which speaks to the everyday, common, experiences of melancholy.
In the case of Rippier’s work, what should be noticed is that the form of melancholy which is so acutely observed in the poems is not the more dramatic aspects of loss or change or disruption but that of the ordinary repetition of those states. The poem entitled Eating Alone is a good example of this aspect of Rippier’s work: a situation that the statistics tell us is increasingly the norm for many people ( whether young or old ) is rendered, with great economy, as a vivid reminder of the reality of being alone. This poem also takes us to the theme of the values and expectations by which we live : we should not, of course, ideally be eating alone but it is just one of the norms, such as a daily active engagement with the world, which may be quite foreign to many. That feeling of ‘living outside’ what is expected of us is echoed in the poem Self Discipline; again, what we should be doing is not always not just what we don’t do, but which may well be something which there is little point in either doing or worrying about.
What these remarks hopefully draw together is the overall sense of a challenge to the given, the assumed, that Rippier suggests. One of the ways that is most clearly stated is in the poem Mansfield Park, about Jane Austen’s novel of the same name. Austen is of course one of the great canonical figures of English literature, to question this iconic figure is hardly conventional. Yet in the poem, the line ‘imperatives are implied’ suddenly illuminates that loss of freedom which Rippier has identified as central to the purpose of fiction. Students of Austen are well aware that Mansfield Park has for many the most problematic heroine of all of Austen’s fiction, but here we are asked to consider the idea that readers are ‘let down’ by the novel’s conclusion.
That view is contentious, but the strength of the poem is not about whether we agree with it or not, but the economy and precision with which complex ideas are expressed. That same ability shines through all the poems in this volume, a collection which is rich in the variety of the themes that are its subjects, all illuminated by an assured understanding and confidence that poetry is a medium in which we can express the lifetimes that we live. That last point is crucial: Rippier is above all else a poet less of the immediate than of the continuity of our lives.
Mary Evans is an English academic whose published work crosses boundaries between the social sciences and literature. Published work includes studies of Simone de Beauvoir, Jane Austen and gender inequality.