The Poetry of Rutger Kopland – 3

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Parameters

A Gregorian Peace

Where do journeys end? What were settings in the early poems, now become things in their own right; the world has been stripped down to its constituents. It is interesting to see how far Kopland has travelled when we compare this poem from 1993 with his earlier work:

                                     Among Cattle

                      And when the summer had come back again after all

                      And so we were sitting once more, drinking by the river.

 

                     ………………………………………………………………………………………………..

                   ……………………………………………………………………………………

       …………………………………………………………, but the sun went down the same.

 

                     And he went to sleep. Because the world went to sleep.

                     Black he sat by the river, black hole in the prospect.

Now deeply versed in our human myths of living, our hopes, fears, equivocations and failures to measure up: the tonal and emotional ranges these lines weave, and weave between, are immense. The language and imagery now is scrupulously placed.

The human being becomes as much an object of the world as any other of its constituents parts. And as such just as subject to its laws of natural science.

Kopland uses the image of a ‘patient instrument’: “we were made by an impartial attentive/patient instrument, the same/ that breaks us down again.” (Your Back). It is also an image for language, and by extension, our ability to comprehend everything, whether by reason or instinct. He examines with it the human dimension. Patient, in that it enables him, by the complex employment of the medium, to look calmly at our extremis: dementia, ageing, death. He sees an aged one’s back, he wants to see the person, not just his own response, or his version of that person; his instrument shows him, not love: “love is a word for something other /than what I was seeking…” (ibid), it shows him the commomplace that everyone ages; he also sees, through his training, profession, a medical anatomy chart. All these have their part, all are acknowledged.

Language, our distinguishing feature, also distances us from that of which we speak or write. Can it also bring the world to us:

 

                        “there must be something now the word morning

                       slowly lights up and it becomes morning

                       that held us together and lets us go

                       as we lie here like this.”

(In the Morning)  ?

 

His instrument‘s distancing effect allows him to see fables in our existence. His Message from the Isle of Chaos (1997) sits very well amongst Seamus Heaney’s fables in The Haw Lantern, and their background in the east European writers (Holub, Herbert in particular).

These examinations of ways and means, of what language allows us, bears extraordinary fruit in The Latest Findings:

 

                      experts

                      have searched in human brains

                       …………………….

                      they recorded:

 

                      “Night fell through the windows of our institute

                      moonlight stroked across the young breasts

                      of our female experimental person

                     …………………………………

                      We are still searching feverishly for formulae.”

Desire, human warmth, love, still escape the limits of our study.

More pertinently, the most important human apprehensions continue to fall outside the scope of our microscopes:

 

                    because happiness is a memory

                    it exists…………………….

                    the reverse is also true

 

                    I mean this: because happiness

                    reminds us of happiness it pursues

                    us and therefore we flee from it

 

                                                    happiness

                    must exist somewhere at some time because

                    we remember it and it reminds us.

(What is Happiness?)

Richard Pool, reviewing for ‘Poetry Wales’ wrote of Kopland’s “existentialist poetry”. I find the writing more Phenomenological. Based on Husserl’s work, the present-day Phenomenologists present the experience of mind as a series of recursive mental events: echoes of echoes looping back and forth through our brain’s maps of world and body, that create an impression of one’s self. It is as though we continually restructure our maps on a daily basis, as the pattern at play in the brain changes.

The extra ingredient, the rider, is a sense of futurity: anticipation.

Here we have Kopland’s exploratory template as he explores and objectifies in his writing. There is an increasing sense of wonder, openness, what Belgian critic Herman de Coninck called the “Gregorian peace” of the later work (timeless rivalries: how the Catholic south never forgave the north ‘s breaking away, or abandonment of them… the wry dig of allotting a Gregorian peace to a Calvanistic northerner).

We now encounter titles like, Until it Lets Us Go (1997), even the title of the Harvill collection, Memories of the Unknown, or the recent book, What Water Leaves Behind. All of these exhibit, I would argue, a Phenomenologist sense of numinous wonder, where the world of objects is found to be the one reality, and our response to it is the possibility of happiness, love, desire, all the human responses. These objects are, as Phenomenlogist professor Dan Lloyd called, ‘the insensible dimensions that constitute reality.’

It is always best to let the writer have last say:

A Garden in the Evening

                 Things are happening here and I am the only

                 one who knows which 

 

                ………………………………………………………….

……………………………………………………………………………………………

                 and what you don’t hear and don’t see – the places

                 where we dug holes

                 and filled them up again, weeping

 

                 I tell you this because I do not want to be alone

                 before I am.

 

Postscript

The story goes that ‘Rutger Kopland’ was involved in a bad car crash: night driving, a tree, a write-off.  He acquired a bad head injury; so much so he was unable to speak for a while, became frustrated, violent even. The story continues he ended up for a period in one of his own locked wards.

The upshot is he now restricts his activities severely: his readings, attending conferences, exhibitions all cut back to a minimum.

For further and more modern work by Rutger Kopland, see:

http://www.gedichten.nl/schrijver/Rutger+Kopland

There is a translation facility.

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