Transparencies : Stephen Edgar
On slender toesDown by the water’s edge
Two egrets effortlessly hold their pose
They hold their pose. This show,
With all chinoiserie’s
Appeal, must be illusory. And so
Stephen Edgar’s nimble-footed new collection Transparencies extends his exploration of the world’s visual aspect, both in itself and as a screen for the mind’s projections. He questions, in the words of Denis O’Donoghue, ‘the delusion by which we think that reality coincides at every point with its appearances’.
The transparencies of the title are both the daylit images of the natural world, in all their hallucinatory strangeness and beauty, and the occasions they offer us to look through them, now into deep time, as in ‘Day Book’ and ‘The Mechanicals’, now into the parallel universe of the dead, as in ‘The Returns’, or into the world within this one, as in ‘There’. Edgar’s poems look out and reach in. They probe, even as they have an exquisite ear.
As well as moving poems on his late mother, to whom the book is dedicated, Transparencies has many pleasures. One of them is waiting for the delayed rhyme on ‘David Attenborough’.
These poems hold and play with the reader’s mind and imagination—telescopically and microscopically.
David Gilbey, Mascara
What Clive James said of a single Edgar poem holds true for poems in Transparencies:
clear from moment to moment, and clear in the way that one moment leads to the next, it accumulates so much clarity that you need dark glasses to look at it.
Poetry Notebook 2006 - 2014
The harbour’s idle undulations slew
And swill their slicks of glaze to make
An unimaginable shape in time
The mind would ache
To contemplate. Above, small figures climb
The bridge, aspiring to a simpler view.
Down on the upper deck of the toy ferry
Now sliding underneath that span,
Deep in today’s political polemic,
May miss the news that renders academic
That puppet show, and makes unnecessary
Proposals he is anxious to embrace,
Initiatives already planned,
Between the tropics and the poles, between
The Ice Age and
The Holocaust, juju and mutant gene,
Planck’s constant and the curvature of space.
Tethered in mid-Pacific still revolves
The dateline, dealing out the days
Like there was no tomorrow. Each of them
Plays and replays
Self-replicating hours—a theorem
Of endless present it propounds and solves.
And here, out from the shadow of the bridge,
The ferry surges into this
Ceramic swash, whose crazing would defy
The businessman reads on, but you and I,
Illiterates of trade and leverage,
And risk too intricate for even Lloyd’s
To cover, simply watch the slurs
Of gloss and shifting craquelure. They say
Vast mass that draws off, and may hurl our way,
A terminating hail of asteroids.
Under the Radar
Flaring and fading like the blips
That flash an instant on a radar screen,
The bellbirds’ brilliant little flecks of sound
Illumine and eclipse
The points where silence has been slung between
The branches of the trees. Such flimsy tips
To bear the weight it gathers on the ground.
As when you wade through water, slowed
And heavy, hardly able to progress,
Your senses, working through this thick dimension
Of stillness, share its mode.
Each leaf glint, shadow, bird note, each impress
Of foot on twig that snaps beneath its load,
More slowly but more clearly holds attention.
Once all the world was this. Alone,
And dozing through the spell of midday heat,
You register that chittering outside,
A neighbour’s telephone,
The drone of traffic on a further street,
The ticking house—each floated overtone
Dragged by the soundless groundswell that they ride.
And so it was when you were led
To where her barely conscious form lay waiting
And silence held the burden of the room.
And leaning by the bed,
You swayed in that abeyance, concentrating
To hear far off her scarcely warranted
And weightless breathing falter, and resume.
Bird in Hand
A corner of the eye, or mind:
The shadow-sifting trees?
The flutter of a blind?
There was no breeze.
Some flurry in the other room
Was meddling with the glare,
Which flickered with a zoom
And whirring: there,
In two dimensions on the wall,
A twisting shade transferred
The fluster of a small
And frantic bird.
I raised my arms and waved and fanned
It down against the sill,
And bringing hand to hand
Held it there still,
Feeling the urgent feathers push
My cradling palms. Outside,
At once a rufous whoosh
Opened them wide,
And the fantail was gone. But for
Those moments of close care,
I felt that what I bore
Was less than air,
A nothing formed of heat and flutter,
As though my hands might case
The pulsing shape of utter