August has been a very exciting month for reading new poems, with the release of two collections from two poetry powerhouses: ‘Falling Awake’ by Alice Oswald and ‘The Remedies’ by Katharine Towers.
Interestingly I didn’t intend on writing about both books in one post, but I was struck by the similarities and the way these shared ideas are handled in both texts.
‘Falling Awake’ by Alice Oswald is a beautiful account of encounters with nature, a collection of poems so alive with the natural world it describes. In ‘The Remedies’ Katharine Towers discusses our relationship with nature, the precariousness of these ties and the idea of using nature as a source for medicinal purposes.
Water runs through the pages of ‘Falling Awake’: the image of falling rain is in the first line, as the instigator for action ‘It is the story of falling rain / to turn into a leaf and fall again’ and serves as a gentle introduction for the forthcoming storm of a collection; later in her poem ‘Vertigo’ the ‘rain stares at the ground’. Katharine Towers’ poem ‘rain’ is a prose poem: ‘if we stand in woods after rain when the trees are iron and purple, like wine, we’ll wish we could stay’, with a touching moment at the close: ‘but to stand in the iron and purple of evening, our stories behind us like toys we’ve forgotten or lost, till we enter at last that place in the heart (that place in the dark of the heart) where there’s nothing, not even weather’.
In Oswald’s timeline poem ‘Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of the Dawn’, which follows a completely black page symbolising the night, she writes on willow trees: ‘willows I want to pause and praise / you who used to be headstrong / and have now forgiven everything / growing lenient and bowed as I am’. In ‘The Flower Remedies’ section of Towers’ book, the poems are based on the remedies created by Dr Bach (of ‘Rescue Remedy’ fame) in the 1930s and each plant in question is imagined to suffer with the ailment for which it is prescribed (‘Clematis: a remedy for those who dream too much’) and, notably, Willow, which is a remedy for self-pity: ‘Don’t think that I weep. I’m practicing drowning […] water is always upon me like a bad thought.’
Both Oswald and Towers present nature as inseparable from human emotion. Alice Oswald treats it with the delicate background beat of a drum. In ‘Cold Streak’ we are told: ‘I notice the fatigue of flowers / weighed down by light / I notice the lark has a needle / pulled through its throat’, with an unexpected, syncopated flourish, as our voices are dragged down in register with the needle (these are poems to be read aloud). Oswald fragments her poems with exciting unexpected breaks and pauses and reassuring repetition. ‘Cold Streak’ ends with: ‘I notice the thin meticulous grass, thrives in this place’. Curiously, ‘Grass’ is the title of one of Katharine Towers’ poems: ‘If I were called in to construct a religion I should make use of grass’ and it finishes with: ‘And I should be a singer of grass, spitting all but the sweetest pith from my mouth.’ Oswald likewise highlights the strange sensation of grass in the mouth and throat: a dry river ‘seemingly has no voice but a throat-clearing rustle / as of dry grass’. It’s fascinating to study the way these shared sensations are described in completely ways, a bit like a call and response from choirs in different continents.
I realise that both collections are entirely separate entities, but it is intriguing that I laid my hands on two poetry books with a common interest (petals and chaffinches spring to mind). It surely only emphasises the universal appeal of poetry and the on-going connection it has with nature. I’m just glad I don’t have to pick a favourite.
‘Falling Awake’ by Alice Oswald is published by Cape Poetry (RRP £10)
‘The Remedies’ by Katharine Towers is published by Picador Poetry (RRP £9.99)