Friday, October 06, 2006

Banville on Robin Robertson

Last week I quoted what I thought was a very intelligent paragraph—about, among other things, how poetry requires our full attention--from John Banville’s review of Robin Robertson’s poetry.

In fact, sometimes even our full attention is not enough: we need to know more to experience the full flowering of a poem.

An example of what I mean:

Banville (in the review) writes about Robertson’s “astonishingly assured A Painted Field, published in 1997,” and then adds in a footnote:
Peculiarly, the title A Painted Field is not accounted for until we come across the note to a tiny poem [mz note: more precisely, a haiku], “Natural History,” in Slow Air, Robertson’s second book—

Draw the curtain that
cannot be pulled, watch birds peck
at a painted field.
—in which an anecdote is quoted from Pliny telling of a contest in verisimilitude between two artists one of whose works, a representation of grapes, is so convincing that birds peck at it, though the other wins by setting a trompe l’oeil curtain in front of the grape painting which is so successful that his rival asks for it to be drawn aside.

--Marshal Zeringue