A Landscape To Figure In | Helen Boden
In A Landscape to Figure In the Pennine and Pentland Hills are fixed points from which to encounter Scottish and Greek islands, the US/Canada border, Zimbabwe, the settings for paintings, a theatre interior. There are hybrid, fictive topographies, too, plus some seascapes. These poems examine physical and psychological edges and the semi-rural; the routes that link locations, and states of motion or stasis—voluntary and involuntary, for work or leisure, across generations, seasons and centuries, across species.
There are hints at trauma, and of magic, as notions of heft and heredity are tested. From historical persecutions to Brexit and permitted exercise during the Covid-19 pandemic, here is place reimagined—coded as map, sign, or picture; felt as home. Always attuned to the relationship of land and language, these are poems of terrain grounded in the quiet radicalism of the walk and the line imprinted on earth or paper.
‘Trudging into westerlies, / hair wind-chilled onto January cheeks. I’d turn / to face back down here and single out my own / front door, anchored by the moor’s breadth.’
‘In this fine début collection the landscape is acutely delineated: Helen Boden watches, notices, each word chosen with precision. From a vantage point atop the Pentlands—from which Boden can indeed pinpoint her own front door far below— these are a hillswoman’s words: ‘It matters that my feet know how it is to tread / up there at 6am in June.’ Read these poems —they are compelling they will have you pulling on your walking boots—getting ‘out there’—then coming back for more.’
‘There’s energy in the brisk language of ‘Migrant’...I love the no nonsense warmth of the voice here.’
‘Boden writes about “what the maps can’t show,” exploring her own journey from post-industrial Yorkshire to the outskirts of Edinburgh, knowing “Here at the edge of the firth you can /start to feel the curvature of the earth.” Appropriately for a poet who has mentored and taught many others, here too are poems inspired by the work of Paul Klee, Joan Eardley, Ciara Phillips, Wilfred Owen, and Simon Armitage. There is so much to admire and enjoy in this rich and varied collection, which is at its strongest and most moving when exploring different aspects of being an outsider. Boden casts a perceptive eye across a wide landscape, mindful of how “our hinterlands are arrayed inside” and of “the depths to which our tracks embed.”’
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