General Remarks on the Poetry of Peter Riley: The Llŷn Writings


Melissa Flores-Bórquez

In Riley's poetry there is an idea of the "earth" (also the "world", the "world-sheet" and other composites, sometimes emphasised as This, always accompanied by a varyingly explicit sense of being too much with us, "go under world. For we hate it" p.65). This sheet enwraps and atmospheres around an idea of a "centre" (a kind of clearing). And there is always death, a somewhat pure place, often figured as an ideal condition of poetry and music together. "Battles are lost and won in border-zones but creation takes place at the centre, at the peace at the centre, that is what I think. I don't care if I never think anything else in the world." (The Llŷn Writings, p. 87)

In the variations on the sea and the shore, the wind and the tide which run through this book, the sea is death to the wind's comic mask.

One piece I've returned to several times is 'Dithyrambic, after the Vicar of Aberdaron', "in part a collage of phrases and notions" from the work of R. S. Thomas, the vicar in question. A snippet:

                absence: traps, warm nests (footprints)
inner emptiness, outer florescence, carved.
It's like the headache I once developed from reading too many Thomas poems in one session just got blasted away.

Particular stanzas and lines of the poetry express various forms or qualities without actualizing them, so they could exist anywhere because they haven't really appeared yet. Walls, shadows, grass. But in The Llŷn Writings the geography traversed, the music heard and the time written are mostly laid out: the writing here draws back from actualisation through the book's structuring principle, a pile of notebooks relating to the poet's time spent – at leisure and at book-selling work – in one place. So we get sequences which seem finished, which have been published before, but these are outweighed by notes and scraps, a fragment from an abandoned dialogue between Riley's son and his father ('Overheard by the Sea', the poet's self gone into medium), and lines written literally in the dark – sometimes illegible, sometimes one line written on another.

I settle comfortably into bed
by he small caravan window
onto grey field edge, black shed
and streaks across the sky. Legible,
heartening lines. Too dark to
write, I write. I fill the pages.

(p. 50)
The centre and the could-be-anywhere space in Riley's poetry is essayed by Keston Sutherland in his 'The Accomplishment of Knowing One's Place' (The Gig 4/5) in terms of democracy and the State (the State organization and its public): "What we are is for Riley very much distinct from where we are located. The distinctness of our quidfrom our qua: eventually "anywhere" will do, as for the lyricist who wishes to write descriptive ontology it surely must." Not surely must but might; the what and where could be glossed as the perception of perceptions (space) and the promise-giving ghost of the social (place). The desired promise is a renewal of truth... To walk inside a church is to leave one dream and enter a completed dream (a recurring idea). To visit a site of pilgrimage is to allow attention to be deflected towards a point of absorption in place.

The dark – a "genuine dark" in a different spirit to Dryden's 'Mac Flecknoe' – allows a watching, as in the hillside vigil of the opening 'Sea Watches', it allows consciousness to fly out "like a gull

Over the sea, away from the wasteful and gaudy shops
Of this life, away from my own tricks, indeed away
From the untruthful land. This dark divided church.

(p. 14)
This inverts the Yeats lying-down foul rag-and-bone shop ending – and I don't think I'm clutching at associative straws here – as it is not emblems renounced but shops escaped, the self (my own tricks) removed by being called out. To be oriented in this thought is to evaporate, all the better to rain down anywhere, – growing shadows and the future and a song.


The Llŷn Writings. Published January 2007. Paperback, 124pp, 8.5x5.5ins, £8.95 / $15. ISBN-13 9781905700158; ISBN-10 1905700156 Shearsman

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