JAMES HARTNELL: WAITING FOR THE CACTUS
16-18 Mill Lane
ISBN 0 9524540 4 1
email Wilderswood Press
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This page last updated: 10th December 2007.
|JAMES HARTNELL: WAITING FOR THE CACTUS|
The poems in James Hartnell's WAITING FOR THE CACTUS are contemplative joyfully, actively and often playfully so. His major preoccupation appears to be with time: waking, night-time, summertime, the "eighteenth or nineteenth time", vespers, "my internal clock", "frothy Friday night", etc.
In the first poem ON WAKING it becomes clear that the poet is experiencing waking beside a loved one,
My new day's waiting for you to fill its pockets.Time, with its forward, backward, sideways motion is an apt metaphor. Hartnell is concerned with movement that is not necessarily linear. He is interested in momentary patterns: the fleeting, the perishable, and further, the way transience defines existence, as we see in the poem SILVES
Where the sandstone shapeshifts under the wind and spindrift a riding tern hunts into the sun collapses dives the splash is gone like these footprints fading foam-washed into sky.This is generally not disturbing, since renewal is constant. Hartnell's poems are infused with the acceptance of the here and now, of existence as a state of flux. Many of his poems meditate on this subject: (TABLE 50, HARVEY NICKS)
as the neon of the Hard Rock Café slips out into the night(DOTY'S MACKEREL)
On the back of an old envelope he wrote the words he had been waiting forPoetry affects inner time as you read it, and as you write it. Maybe a poem in a strange way bends time and it's a matter of looking deeply, looking for truth but realising that it's ever evolving and ever changing.
THE BEACH gives us the poet's view of a "July Evening" as he looks at his surroundings with a discerning eye:
Every cast that July evening teams of black-barred blue and silver tugged zigzags through the shallows skittered on shingle gasping alien air: despatched big-stoned thuds to their glossy heads a swift slaughter.As the poet ends the evening, a shared "haiku moment" forces me to consider with him, the joys of walking on the beach on a late summer evening
Halcyon evenings wind a whisper sea flat as the sky the beach yields its secrets to lovers of the tides.As I read and reflect on Hartnell's poems, I realise the many layers of meaning embedded in this collection, adding to its depth and to the way the poems work on the reader's imagination. As an example take the poem THE JOY OF SHOPPING in which he shows a nun "shopping for essentials" and the temptations that assail her. The final stanza shows us the nun in the quiet of evening when her prayers are over and she repents of the day's frivolities as she embraces the figure of her Lord:
The scourge bites to the bone. Smiling, gasping relief, she kisses his forehead in pure longing, holds him to her starched, unfondled chest a delicious moment, then at her desk resumes her index Of The Scriptures, a life's work.GLASSBLOWER recounts the story of an artisan as he works his magic watched by worshippers in the viewing gallery:
Furnace accents in his dyed ponytail, the silver-sleeved gaffer breathes life into his gather-tipped posthorn.To me Hartnell's poetry shines most strongly when his vision is on the immediate, the natural, the personal, even the beautiful, and where his imaginative energy has more scope to be at play poems as clear and fully realised as RIVERSCAPE, HAWK, FAST CROWD or the final poem in the collection YOUR WINDOW. Perhaps what stands out with a poem like YOUR WINDOW is its open uncertainty, the sense that the poem bends and twists spontaneously:
The view from your window has changed: at first it was a safety net where my eyes tumbled; a cue for small talk as the afternoon weather swerved and backtracked, a summer greenness, unremarkably steady against the maelstrom yearnings behind the glass.The rhythm of the voice is edgy, always engaged in seeing more, unable to stop itself. The poem carries joy fully realised in an explosion of awareness. The complexity of what is seen caught in fresh images, rising and flooding forward, finds a completely convincing idiom and cadence:
The next weekend, in sharper weather, we returned from walking around the lake, strode through the view, smiled up at your window, felt its acknowledgment.The poems in WAITING FOR THE CACTUS certainly are looking in all directions. Their subject matter ranges widely. These are poems that cover moving house, the beach, shopping, waiting for the cactus to put on a growth spurt, a meeting between two people, a glassblower and more. Hartnell moves over his subjects as well as into them, through them, even. He is interested in what lies behind appearances, the unknowable. And indeed it is as if her cannot get enough of the world and all its detail, as if he is breathing in all the stimuli around him inspiration in its original sense.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|