DINAH LIVINGSTONE: THE POETRY OF EARTH
10 St Martin's Close
ISBN 0904872 34 3
DINAH LIVINGSTONE: PRESENCE
ISBN 0904872 39 4
visit the website of Katabasis
A subsequent collection is KINDNESS (Katabasis ISBN 978 0 904872 43 9)
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This page last updated: 1st July 2008.
|DINAH LIVINGSTONE: THE POETRY OF EARTH|
THE POETRY OF EARTH is an essay, or rather a series of linked essays, dealing with theology, politics, ecology and poetry. Its argument seems to be that the visionary poetry of outsiders like Blake, Coleridge, Hopkins and Ernesto Cardenal will change the world.
DINAH LIVINGSTONE hates global capitalism, the cultural dominance of the USA and the way urban living cuts us off from the rhythms of Nature. But instead of engaging with the complexities of post-modern Western culture, she looks for solutions in other places and times. She answers Don Cupitt's celebration of post-modernism with a chapter on Liberation Theology. This is interesting in itself but nowhere explains how an ideology rooted in peasant Catholicism can be made to serve the needs of a post-Christian, post-socialist society.
The book is a muddle of tenuous links, wobbly arguments and unsubstantiated political claims. It also contains much sensitive and informative writing on individual topics.
Buy it for its analysis of Hopkins or the Sandanista poets and you won't be disappointed. Where it falls down is in trying to turn a catalogue of my favourite things into a blueprint for a new society.
Although advertised as "Down to Earth" (katabastic) this is exactly what it is not. It is humourless, bookish and sealed against the reality of the street.
|reviewer: Tony Grist.|
|DINAH LIVINGSTONE: PRESENCE|
This is Dinah Livingstone's sixth collection of poems since 1987, and she is also the author of nine poetry pamphlets, editor of several anthologies of prose and verse, and translator of numerous works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Alongside this prodigious achievement, she is the editor/publisher at Katabasis, which in recent years has produced a number of impressive volumes that have received good notices in leading journals. Following the success of her 1999 volume, TIME ON EARTH: SELECTED AND NEW POEMS, it is not surprising that PRESENCE is a work of maturity, grace and assurance.
The book is divided into three major sections, LONDON AND COUNTRY, MEXICO, and PEOPLE AND OCCASIONS, and the style shows considerable variety, with a mixture of very strict forms and controlled (that is, never loose) free verse. Throughout her poems, Livingstone maintains a balance between her sense of quiet dignity and an appreciation for small details which neither inflates nor trivializes her subjects. An outstanding example of this comes in the concluding stanza of her poem ZAPATISTAS RETAKE SAN CHRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS. Having retold incidents from this February 2001 march, she writes,
Poor they are, but force of the forgotten heart whose homeliest reasons cannot be denied, today they are swelling as a song with strange polyphonous global resonance, for a world with room for many worlds for themselves, their fellow creatures and the Earth they know as common mother of us all.A typically endearing piece from the PEOPLE AND OCCASIONS section-one which shows unmistakably Livingstone's gift for capturing the instantaneous complex of emotion and thought in the smallest of circumstances-is KIND. Visited by a child, she is asked to identify the species of a fledgling bird. She wonders for a while about this uncertain process of assigning identity, and as time passes the fledgling gradually assumes its place in her imaginative order:
As you kindly visit my garden plum-tree- releasing a responding trill of kindness for my human part- each day you become more clearly an individual of the robin kind.Here, and in PRESENCE more generally, this looking into the depth of words like kindness is something more than playful; it is a process of discovering how we develop meanings for the world around us in part through the way worlds past are echoed in our memories. Or, as she puts it in a poem entitles VOICES (from the LONDON AND COUNTRY section),
I think of all those others I never met but whose words I have, particular poems that have meant the most and formed me as I now am. Lines float into my head, sound-coracles leaving a voice-wake on my mind.PRESENCE is a sincere, humane collection of poems, filled with images of hope-sustained, and experiences recovered.
|reviewer: John Ballam.|