‘Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems,’ by Robin Robertson

11gordinier-master180Jeff Gordinier at The New York Times:

Like his friend and fellow Scotsman Don Paterson, Robertson hasn’t yet crossed over into the realm of mainstream adoration that Ireland’s Seamus Heaney enjoyed among American readers, but that’s probably only a matter of time. He is not hip, and I mean that as a compliment. His work is accessible without being dopey, traditional without making him look like a fogy, and utterly free of fashionable snark. And somehow, the visceral language of a Robin Robertson poem has a way of feeling simultaneously luxurious and spartan. To put it bluntly, he writes lines that you want to read again and again: “He wore fish-gutter’s gloves to pick brambles,” and “the forest is triggered and tripwired,” and “a dab of blood on her cheek / from a rabbit or a deer.” In fact, he has such a deft hand that when his poetry takes a turn for the gory, as in “The Halving,” where he conveys the act and the aftermath of a median sternotomy, or “The Flaying of Marsyas,” his retelling of a scene of torture from Ovid, the gruesomeness can be hard to bear.

In “The Long Home” Robertson captures the atmosphere of a sleepy, crepuscular Aberdeen bar with such cinematic attention to detail that you half expect to see a boom mike hovering a few inches above the scene:

The firewood’s sap

buzzing like a trapped fly,

the granular crackle of a Green Final

folded and unfolded,

the sound of the coals

unwrapping themselves like sweets.

He only looked up when the barman

poured a bucketful of ice

into the sink, like a tremendous

burst of applause.

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