Katrina Porteous, Edge – review

Katrina Porteous’s Edge tries to digest the most abstruse science into poetic form.

I found it thrilling. There’s no self in it, and almost no people, but it doesn’t feel inhuman because Porteous uses different forms of personification so much. She opens with an account of the poems’ genesis and closes with scientific notes. These I sometimes found interesting, sometimes indigestible. The poems themselves are in three sections. ‘Field’ explores the quantum physics underlying all reality – science of a kind incomprehensible to most of us; ‘Sun’ meditates on our sun, and ‘Edge’ focuses on our own moon and some of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. Further complexities of structure will only be felt with repeated reading but the beauty of most of the individual poems leapt out at me immediately.

This was because Porteous has a gift for quietly startling metaphor and handles free verse in a brilliantly fluent, precise and varied way. An example of the delight to be found in her rhythms would be this from ‘Various Uncertainties II’, where exquisitely precise pacing causes ideas and images to flower in the mind almost word by word but – and this is crucial – never in isolation, always with a strong, almost kinetic sense of the unfolding of the syntax between them:

 

It is elsewhere, the party;
The ghostly
Immaterial numbers

Dancing all night
In the mirrored ballroom,
Or gazing transfixed

At their own beauty.

 

When it comes to the kind of physical reality we can or theoretically could experience directly with our senses, Edwin Morgan’s great ‘Moons of Jupiter’ sequence brought the terrifying strangeness and extremity of physical conditions on those moons home to me more hauntingly than anything in this book. Porteous’s main interest is not in such phenomena but in the elusiveness of the cosmic and subatomic forces behind them. In the introduction she refers to Plato’s belief that ‘we cannot see true reality, only its partial image’. Her poems create imaginative bridges between realities directly available to our senses and the vaster or deeper ones that we can only approach by abstract thought or through sophisticated instruments. I can’t claim that reading the book helped me understand the scientific theories and discoveries behind it, but there’s a keen delight in the verbal music and the stream of images that they’ve drawn from the poet.

 

Katrina Porteous, Edge, 128pp, £12, Bloodaxe Books, Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1BS

 

I would like to thank Ann and Peter Sansom and Suzannah Evans for permission to post this extract from my review of books by Katrina Porteous, Mimi Khalvati, Mary Jean Chan and Hugo Williams in issue 64 of The North.

 

One Response to “Katrina Porteous, Edge – review”

  1. Edmund Prestwich» Blog Archive » Hugo Williams, Lines Off – review said:

    Sep 08, 20 at 3:45 pm

    […] different ways, Edge, Afterwardness and Flèche are all written in overtly poetic forms and styles. Williams, too, […]


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