Grevel Lindop’s Lunar Park – review

Grevel Lindop, Luna Park, 80 pp, £9.99, Carcanet Press, Alliance House, Cross St, Manchester M2 7AQ

Luna Park is a generous gathering of poetry culminating in a prose piece on New Orleans four years after Hurricane Catriona. I found it hugely rewarding, though I have difficulty with Lindop’s faith in what his website refers to as “the ‘deep imagination’ – the place where our individual insight and creativity connect with universal archetypes and spiritual dimensions”. Sometimes I felt this faith gave a soft-centredness to the writing. More often it released and empowered an imaginativeness – using the word in a less mystical sense – with which Lindop is highly gifted and in which I took unqualified pleasure.

We see both sides in “Bed”, a lyrical meditation on the marital bed addressed to the poet’s wife. I think the last three lines, expressing a hope of some kind of life beyond death, fail because they leave the hope too undefined. What a beautiful celebration of a long marriage and love the rest of the poem is, though. The handling of sound and cadence is so assured, so vividly expressive, that it’s almost impossible to force oneself to read the poem silently. The bed starts as a book, evoked both as a physical object (“Open the covers, / soft and floppy as the hide of a giant folio”), and as its contents (“the stories / of our thousand and one nights, the radiant / conceptions of our children, dreams and memories / neither time nor water will wash out, / nor the wringing of hands”). In the second paragraph it becomes a boat, a wooden raft, the ship of Odysseus and the ship of Sindbad, and in the third a grave, each transformation accompanied by a rich flow of associated images and ideas. The imaginative fertility is reminiscent of Maguire. The difference is the sense that this poem is born out of profound love for a particular person, a love that communicates itself intimately and powerfully almost from the start and in almost every line. A small example of how in Lindop’s writing imagination and strength of feeling are wedded to the verbal precision of the scholar appears in the radiating richness of connotation in the word “conceptions” in the context he’s given it. As well as bringing together the senses of “ideas” and “creation of embryos”, Lindop’s putting the word into the plural makes us think of the proliferating mental lives of the children, all the ideas and experiences they’ll ever have, as moments in the unending story of the bed they were conceived in.

Transformation, mutation, the cycles and recyclings of life – these themes are fundamental to Lindop’s way of seeing the world. He’s in his middle sixties, and a number of poems confront age and dwindling expectations. What’s striking is how youthfully and energetically they do so, expressing gratitude for what’s been given rather than regret for what’s lost. Even as he embraces change, Lindop honours the past and brings it to new life in the present, both by vivid evocations of past things and by his ability to suggest the tones, registers and styles of earlier writing without losing the distinctiveness of his own voice. In several poems focusing on etymology, like “Pomegranate” or the extraordinary “Pupil”, he uses the magic of the imagination to make us feel how deeply alive the words in our language are because of the way they’ve both developed new meanings and preserved the old ones within themselves. Other poems, like “Browside”, present existence as a kind of tidal flow in which distinctions between individual and environment, past and present, animate and inanimate, substance and surrounding weather, lose all certainty of meaning. In these ways and too many others to mention in a short review Lindop makes us experience for ourselves that vision of life beyond life that I criticised him for failing to articulate properly at the end of “Bed”.

I would like to thank Peter and Ann Sansom for permission to reprint this review, which appeared in The North 55.

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