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Smith/Doorstop Books
The Poetry Business
Bank Street Arts
32-40 Bank Street
S1 2DS
ISBN 1 902382 80 3

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This page last updated: 28th June 2008

Some of the early poems in particular in this selection of forty poems are to do with travelling, the sea, islands and such, lending the selection its title. FORESIGHT shows the poet as observer of her own creations, images and even landscapes, where a couple are observed eating mackerel on the shore:

	It's already late afternoon: an evening breeze
	could air its forecast among the oak leaves.
	The tide's about to turn  wavelets
	running up the shingle could hiss presentiments
	or, since this is my poem, I could walk
	down from the woods, smile and say Nothing
	will ever taste as sweet as those mackerel.
	Without hindsight, would they believe it?
This fits in with the theme of mapmaking in the collection, the self's creation of the contours and shape of one's environment; in TEACH YOURSELF MAPMAKING, Jane Routh envisages being taken to an island or peninsula where she herself will draw its outline:
	I'm thinking of the depth of an inlet,
	an outcrop of rock, the track
	that stoats and foxes use
	 but none will have names
	unless I walk out in the morning

	and record my own history over theirs.
The theme of mapping, the drawing of order and routine, the way things are or were, is prevalent throughout the poems, even in asides as in HER FIRST FLIGHT IN A MICROLIGHT:
	See how wrong the maps are now:
	the river's slow curve has changed direction
	and what's happened to the road beyond the scrub?
She writes poems about islands and their legends, in their Anglo-Saxon or Celtic past evokes their naming and the saints who defined them. Two later poems, THE 'ELIZABETH ANN' and LAGAN, reveal ships and sailing were in the family, and perhaps explain why she has chosen these particular images for her journey into the past.

Other poems have a mish-mash of settings and outlook, yet the authorial presence is still often quite strong, such that a mental picture of the poet in the middle of the space of her poem is frequently instilled. There is therefore this tension in her work between her own entry into her pieces and her search for an authentically-created-and-researched, yet still artificial context which enables her to withdraw into the background. ISSUE is a poem that illustrates Routh's own central position within her poems, and the creation of a map or chart, here a family chart or tree, within which or against which her own identity, and her strong awareness of self, can be placed or even diminished:

	It covers the whole table, this chart
	of people who need no introduction,
	though most I don't know.
	Smoothing out its folds brushes off
	my unique and solitary self, leaves me
	an amalgam of births and deaths and squabbles
	across two centuries of marriages
	and re-marriages, of cousins marrying
	and children by a sister's husband's uncle.
HEART, dealing with someone in intensive care and the poet's anxious wait, exhibits this self-aware tendency of hers to accumulate facts, to list items to minimise her own immediacy:
	Underwater a seal's heart slows down
	fifteen-fold, I wrote in my book.
	I wanted to know everything
	there was to be known about hearts.
	On the facing page, I listed
	his family's phone numbers.
There is a self-conscious element to a lot of her work, with the events, thoughts and images of the poems seeming to happen in present time:
	A garden warbler flies at the window, falls
	stunned. Since Job's God was not averse to bets,
	I gamble your life on its. It gapes, pants for air.
	I'm tired; I need something to eat.
	When I look again, it's nowhere.
Equally, the artifice of the poems' setting or landscape, imagery and linguistic context are quite openly stated, again as in HEARTS:
	My day off. Hours I would have spent
	on the motorway, I'm joyriding the tractor.
	It's the erratic beat of the human heart,
	I wrote in my book, enables it to adapt.
Here is the poem's conclusion:
	The heart of a blue whale
	weighs two tonnes.
	All that blood, imagine,
	all that heartache.
A number of poems deal with family memories and deaths, and the poet's own lack of issue, which preoccupies her quite a lot, and may well give a psychological explanation for something approaching a mania for charting, tracing, naming, mapping the present and the past. As she says in HANDED DOWN,
			I have no children
	but I have spare rooms, and I am who I dream.
In IN PRAISE OF LAND DRAINS she blends together memories or even legacies from the past with the strong physicality of her own presence in the present in her association with her environment:
	Someone  Robin, say, for whom it's named 
	dragged this meadow out of moorland.
	Hacked down gorse, scythed rushes, turned it
	with a hand-held plough. Picked stones and piled them.
	Dug deep: under sod, under subsoil,
	down into the solid clay. And drained it.
Many poems deal with vestiges, whether the associations of legend and history or family memories; LIKE SPEECH is one of a small group of poems about Skirrow, a tramp or such like in the countryside who has left bits and pieces of his presence scattered about, or whose ghost might be revisiting the area now and then in the odd occasional occurrence that cannot be explained:
	The laughter's nothing but yaffles and jays;
	coughs and squeals could be foxes or deer
	though I heard a weeping I couldn't pin down.
Quite understandably, as a consequence of such themes, there is a dissatisfied air in these poems, someone no longer in the flush of youth and whose life is endless repetition. ROUTINES conveys this imprisonment that life brings; the wild geese, who of course represent freedom and adventure, are contrasted with her own geese on her farm, domesticated and disinterested, and ultimately with herself:
	but these birds who'll stand one eye tilted to a jet
	at 30,000 feet neither look, nor pause in their routine:
	only I, filing through the orchard, ache for an uprush of air
	and twilight's steady sheen at the horizon and I 
	I fold my wings and fasten the gate, follow the flock
	along the track, as I do, every evening at dusk.
Other poems give a rather standard portrayal of passing time and the landscape we lived in obliterating any sign of our presence, and so on. Many of the poems have an abundance of the first person, and the poet is very heavily present in her work; nonetheless, despite a consequently irritating and unpruned mish-mash of self-oriented bits and pieces she feels she has to cram into each poem, this is a selection worth studying and reflecting upon.

reviewer: Alan Hardy.