The Solitude of Small Doors, Ananda (Stephen Parr)
Wolf at the Door, Bristol 2015, £11.52, pb, 250 pp
(To order go to Lulu.com and search for Stephen Parr
Reviewed by Ratnagarbha
Ananda’s major new collection, The Solitude of Small Doors has a distilled reflectiveness about it. We get the feeling that this is the fruit of a lifetime of reflection, observation and wrangling with the intractibles of this precious, confusing all to brief event we call human life. But human life, in Ananda’s universe, is always reflected and refracted through things, things vividly alive that speak to the poet, each in its own idiosyncratic voice. The kind of things you find in dank back yards:
ropes that parted like rotting
asparagus at the lightest touch.
or ‘a small gate’ that ‘hangs open’ in ‘This is the Time’ – gates open, half open, closed, giving onto strangeness, abound in this collection as the title hints.
Perhaps this ‘thingness’ at the threshold is why, early in the collection, we find William Carlos Williams referenced twice, in pointed variations on two of the most famous ‘thing poems’ ever written – the red wheelbarrow and the plums in the fridge. This wheelbarrow poem points out that interconnection is everything: so much indeed depends on the red barrow, but the barrow itself depends on:
everything else that was quietly
in that moment: freedom, sunlight, birdsong
digging over his vegetable patch
(‘So Much Depends’)
This is a poet who is not afraid to tackle big themes. He is rarely content, as was Williams, to simply let an object speak for itself. But this is often a strength. Poetry magazines bulge with thing poems that don’t quite lift off the page. All of the work here has something to say, about life and what it means, or doesn’t mean:
the way that the in-breath and the out-breath
are the same shapes as childhood and old age
and the way sometimes for a moment we get it
and it redeems all the wrong roads we’ve taken
and the way whichever direction we face
there is the entire measureless dark, which saves us
A recurrent theme is the cosmos, images from astronomy abound, and are wielded to considerable effect such as ‘the great spiral in the dark, / that flows beyond Alpha Centaurus’ in ‘The Sign’. Even looking for an object in a drawer (in ‘The Search’) becomes an event, or non event, that requires the poet to roll up ‘the river of thoughts’ then ‘years, decades, lifetimes… time and space itself.’ Heady stuff indeed. What prevents this settling heavy on the poetic digestion is that many of the lyrics are quietly, gently humorous, as they plumb the black depths. Ananda reflects constantly on the ridiculousness of limited consciousness, sends himself (the poet) up, reminds himself what a fool he’s been, as in ‘How to Become a Poet’ where he finally misses ‘the last train back to civilization’, or ‘Heaven’s Gate’ where he ruefully realizes that Blake (‘Old Bill’) forgot to mention that in order to wind in the golden thread that leads to heaven’s gate, you must while hanging on ‘let go completely’.
This is a long, rich collection, the fruits of the last several years of intense poetic creativity, truly a late flowering. A book to be taken away on holiday, and savored at leisure, not too much at a time, just one or two poems, then a walk by the river, or a cup of tea. For they all remind us how to ‘walk fearlessly in the ragged lane of our lives’, and the best thing is to read, then walk off into your life, feeling richer and lighter, for this man’s honest appraisal of just how difficult it is to wake, then walk, safely though the ‘lightning of old terrors’.