‘I sat there, as the others worked, and wished, as I so often do, that I could draw.’ Where the poet Kathleen Jamie sat was within the rib cage of a blue whale, in the hvalsalen (the whale hall) of the natural history museum in Bergen. Her wish was needless because her written words make readers see with a clarity bestowed by only a few most gifted writers. It was, however, an enlightening wish. It expressed the intensity of her own seeing, her gift. Only someone with obsessively hungry eyes can write as she does. It makes her, to borrow John Berger’s words quoted on the jacket of Sightlines, ‘a sorceress of the essay form’. It does not matter what she is describing, you see it with her. In the first of these essays she is on a ship threading its way between icebergs up the longest fjord in the world. In the morning sunlight an iceberg glows ‘marsh-mallow pink’, and ‘trinkets’ of white ice are scattered along the shores. In the next essay, she is in a hospital in Dundee: having concluded that nature ‘is not all primroses and otters’, she needs to get the feel of our own intimate inner natural world, the body’s shapes and forms. She has therefore found her way into a pathology lab, and then into a post-mortem. ‘I thought “we are just meat”, then called it back. Flesh, bodily substance, colons, livers and hearts, had taken on a new wonder.’
more from Diana Athill at Literary Review here.