My train journey home on Tuesday evening was muchly delayed – long enough to qualify for a refund! “Signalling problems in the Chislehurst area …” But no worry: I had a seat, and some good reading material. Two good reading materials in fact. I settled down to a happy session.
I remember the green gaze is the latest poetry collection by Matt Chamberlain (for previous ones see the posts https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/collaboration-one-mans-trash/ and https://ninevoices.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/lowering-awareness/ on this blog). In his Foreword Matt Chamberlain talks about seeing things in colours. He writes, “The preceding year has been difficult, with bereavements and faltering friendships … But green says ‘calm tolerant, easy’, and when buffeted between red heat and deep blue cold, I sought its neutrality. I longed for the return of nature. I remembered the green gaze.”
‘A Father’s Day’ will echo with anyone who’s lost a loved one, thinking of the everyday actions that won’t be done again. ‘Commuters’ suggests ways of passing a train journey, eg “Rain makes patterns and I imagine introducing people to their own reflections, me their gentle intermediary.” ‘Counting’ describes the sheer abundance of nature: “Frank swept away twelve tons of leaves last night but morning said ‘I’ll raise you’; now the scarlet carpet is measured in fathoms.” ‘An Old Soldier’ recalls one’s youth in a way that will resonate; we won’t have in our own memory bank an Action Man stuck for years on a telephone line, but we’ll have the equivalent.
And many more, as they used to say on the sleeves of compilation LPs. (Talk about going down Memory Lane!)
The other was Mythos, Stephen Fry’s retelling of many of the Greek myths. As you would expect from him, it’s so readable, a fresh take on familiar stories. And many of them that weren’t familiar to me. Told with affection and a modern feel. In the very first chapter, for example, describing Chaos and the creation of the universe, he explains how your trousers began as chaotic atoms, became your trousers, will become landfill, and in time will return to cold Chaos once the Sun expands and destroys the earth. When telling the story of how Europa, changed by Zeus into a cow, swims across the Bosphorus, he delights in pointing out that ‘Bosphorus’ and ‘Oxford’ mean exactly the same thing. Time and again we see the Greek origin of our words or our ideas.
His imagined conversations on Olympus entertain, as does his recognition that he is repeatedly introducing us to perfectly beautiful young people, who may well (but not always) come to sticky ends once their beauty attracts an Olympian. Adonis, Ganymede, Narcissus, Echo, Psyche, Semele – they’re all here.
Sometimes he gives us interesting variants on what we’re used to. Athena, for example, changes Arachne into a spider not because she presumptuously took her on in a spinning competition, but as a reward for being a great artist, the poor girl having just hanged herself in mortification a few moments before.
Eventually the signalling difficulties in the Chislehurst area were resolved. But I hadn’t minded.