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Wednesday, 24 June 2009


A few days ago I walked into our local book store with the solemn intention of buying a dictionary. However, in order to reach the Reference section I had first to pass the poetry shelf. I tried not to look - and it is a very small shelf, easily overlooked. It was not to be, however, for jumping up and down and waving to me, crying in aloud and plaintive voice, Here I am! was Alice Oswald's Weeds and Wild Flowers. Now I don't think I've breathed a word of this before, but I fell in love with Alice when she published Dart, the source to mouth journey of the river of the same name. She is in my opinion, quite simply, wonderful - and my tip for the next English-speaking poet to receive the Nobel Laureateship, though, realistically, not anytime soon. I have had it on several good authorities lately that blog readers are turned off by book reviews, so before this becomes one of those and you reach for the mouse button, let me advise that if you do not know Alice and have not yet included her in your library, you must certainly make one of her books your next purchase. Including the two already mentioned, there are five from which to choose. The other three are: The Thing in the Gap-stone Stile, Woods etc and A Sleepwalk on the Severn.
So now to the review, if by such a term it may be graced.

Weeds and Wild Flowers is beautifully presented and contains not just Alice Oswald's poems but also etchings and drawings by Jessica Greenman. These are not... but heck, let Alice Oswald tell you in her own words, for they drip beauty.

Weeds and Wild Flowers, which grew out of a number of conversations with Jessica Greenman, is not an illustrated book. It is two separate books, a book of etchings and a book of poems, shuffled together. What connects them both is their contention that flowers are recognisably ourselves elsewhere; but whereas the etchings express that thought dynamically in the postures of the pictures, the poems make fun of it, using the names of flowers to summon up the flora of the psyche. My hope is that the experience of reading and looking at the book will be a slightly unsettling pleasure, like walking through a garden at night, when the plants come right up to the edges of their names and then beyond them. It is not, for that reason, a reliable guide to wild flowers, though it may be a reliable record of someone's wild or wayside selves.

My own personal feeling is that this is not her best production, but that is to compare it with the very best there is. To illustrate her remarks above concerning ourselves in the flowers, let me give you the opening lines from the first poem in the book:-

Stinking Goose-foot

Stinking Goose-foot has grown human.
It could happen to anyone.

He has no bath.
Keeps his socks in a bag
that he hangs on a nail by the door.

And his wife in the earth.

In the wet season, in the wasteground,
poking around with a spade, you'll see him
put slugs in a bag.
Which he pops in his mouth.

And this is her in slightly different vein:-


once I was half flower, half self,
that invisible self whose absence inhabits mirrors,
that invisible flower that is always inwardly
groping up through us, a kind of outswelling weakness,
yes once I was half frail, half glittering,
continually emerging from the store of the self itself,

And describing Dock:-

Red-veined Dock

Knock knock
knock knock
dear red-veined
feeler of glands
with your soap-sweet hands

Hopefully, that will have given you enough of a taster to leave you wanting more. It is, I have no hesitation in saying, a book full of delights - not least of which are the gorgeous etchings.


P.S. I still need that dictionary.


Helen Ginger said...

It sounds like a wonderful book and a most unusual poetry book. I love the idea of the etchings.

Straight From Hel

David Cranmer said...

Whenever I enter a bookstore I am doomed to walk out with a book no matter how hard I try to avert my eyes. Yours sounds like a terrific selection.

soulbrush said...

i have never heard of her, will look for her at waterstones next time i'm there.
dave you are always so complimentary about my art, and i thanks you for that. It builds my self esteem as i am mostly self-taught.
I would really love to sendn you a few of my africa atcs, so choose three and let me know which they are: jossross@yahoo.com

Unknown said...

Never heard of her either but now I am super intrigued as I am currently working on a similar colaborative effort of poetry but with a photographer so this sounds like something wonderful to use as a bit of a reference guide as well. Her words are interesting, the little you have shared makes me want to read the whole thing. I will look for this at the library this afternoon. Thanks!

Shadow said...

thanks for the sneak-peak. i'd certainly like to read more... now go get that dictionary!

Rachel Green said...

I love the excerpts you posted. How delightful.

Unknown said...

Hi Dave,

I don't know this lady either but have just searched the web and found a couple of her pieces. I shall look for more.

A Cuban In London said...

First of all, well done for just buying the one book :-)! No, really! Secondly, I detect a versatile tone in her poetry and since I am keen on poets and writers in general who are not afraid of venturing into unknown waters I have noted her name down and will check my local library. Thirdly, those three poems you posted are great. They are facetious and beautiful, especially Narcissus.

Many thanks,

Greetings from London.

Anonymous said...

Your email server is not accepting my email.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

You have perfectly described every book lovers walk through a book shop. Temptation lurks round every corner. I am happy you gave in! Lovely poetry. I shall investigate her further! Thanks!

Rosaria Williams said...

Her poems are approachable and fun. Thanks for introducing her to us.

readingsully2 said...

That was a great effort on your part, Dave. Whew, a lot of work. I will be sure to check her out. :)

Dick said...

Absolutely with you, Dave. I bought the lot via Amazon a month or so back and love them. And may fate, chance and the affairs of men keep a million miles from the laureateship!

Aniket Thakkar said...

Whenever I have a pile of books in queue to read (which is mostly the case) I too ask my friends accompanying me to a book store "Don't let my buy anything. I just wanna look around whats new"

They are very poor at their job. :)

This sounds a wonderful book.
All the best for getting your dictionary. :D (Though I think you'd rarely need one)

Madame DeFarge said...

Sounds intriguing and thanks for drawing attention to it. You really are an education for me.

Dave King said...

I don't think I have ever seen a poetry book quite like it.

Yes, I did well even though I had no choice in the matter!

Happy hunting in Waterstones! Thanks for the kind offer. I will have a look and let you know.

Your current project sounds fascinating, too. Let me (us?) know how it goes. Good luck.

Yes, I really must - but suppose I see another poetry book!

The rest is equally good, I assure you.

Ah, I found it quite difficult tracking her work own on the web, so well done you.

A Cuban in London
We seem to be on the same wavelength here. I, too, respond well to venturesome poets. The facetiousness bounces off the more serious etchings to excellent effect. The book strikes me as quite unique, which is why I decided to let Oswald's words do the speaking.

Ah, I keep getting this problem. Check that you've got davidalexking@googlemail.com
Sorry about the inconvenience. I will try again to correct it!!

Pamela Terry and Edward
Hope you enjoy - not that I have any doubts!

You are right, that is exactly what they are. Have fun!

I'm sure you will not be disappointed.

Yes, I do know what you mean. I shouln't have wished that on her, should I?

Well there you go, if you can't even manage it with a squad of footsoldiers to keep you on the straight and narrow, what chance have I?

Kat Mortensen said...

Had I known, I would have had my husband buy it for me for my birthday. (Too late!) In any case, I will definitely look out for her work - I am absolutely taken with it.


Conda Douglas said...

Does want me wanting more, right from the lovely cover! Thanks for sharing a treat, Dave!

Mary Paquet said...

I will have to check out Alice's work. The cover is charming and the content intriguing.

David, you are a marvelous writer. I love to write, so we have much in common, though I've never tried my hand at poetry. I am enjoying your blog very much.

readingsully2 said...

There is an award for you at my blog, if you would like to accept it. :) It is a fun thing...not serious at all.:)

Dave King said...

Shame! Sorry I was too late. Hope you manage to come by one of her publications.

You see why I couldn't walk past it, then!

Glad you like the blog. When I started it I really didn't think I would keep it going for long, but it's hard to give it up! (Folk like you make it so.)

Thanks. These things really do mean a lot. I shall have to find a solution.

Dave King said...

Madame DeFarge
I'm sure you would enjoy it.

Judi FitzPatrick said...

Hi Dave, my first time reading you.
Thank you for this recommendation, I will definitely check out Alice's work.
Peace, Judi

Friko said...

I'm an avid reader of poetry yet I have never heard of Alice Oswald. How come?

Guess where I'm going next?

If she's as good as you say (and I believe she is judging by the tasters you provided) I shall introduce her to the scraper and our poetry reading group mighty pronto.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Isn't it funny Dave how books lie in wait in bookshops - some shout and wave, others whine (I avoid those), others burst into song - some trip you up if you aren't careful. I wish I had a pound coin for every time I have gone into a bookshop for one book and come out with another. I like the sound of Alice Oswald (definitely not a whine) and shall look out for it as I am madly in love with wildflowers anyway.

Sarah Laurence said...

Dave, I’m a compulsive book buyer too. I just traveled through England for 10 days with 5 books and bought 5 more.

Sheila said...

Whoever said bloggers don't like poetry reviews on blogs didn't ask my opinion on the subject. I've ordered half a dozen books in the last few months based on blog reviews. How else are we supposed to find our way to the really good stuff? By reading reviews in the newspaper? I don't think so. Thanks for this one. I'll check her out.

Dave King said...

Hi and Welcome. Thanks for calling and for stopping off to comment. I am confident that you will not be disappointed.

I can assure you she is exceptionally good. Dart would be a good one to start with.

The Weaver of Grass
I do know exactly what you mean. I was waylaid good and proper! (Wouldn't have had it any other way, though.)

It's a very fine compulsion to have.

My thinking, too. One blog I ran across had organised a poll and reviews had come out as a big turn-off.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well I have no problems with your book reviews. And what I particularly liked about this one is that you let the poet speak for herself. I hate reviews of books, especially poetry books, where they don't include any of the writer's work. You can be damn sure I'll never order a book of poetry without reading several of the poems contained therein.

Still not sure why the hell you need a dictionary mind.

Dave King said...


Why I need a dictionary, Jim? Old age. I have a small one on my desk and a (very) large on on the floor nearby. The small one is too small, the large one tires me out with lifting it - it's like weight training with no one to supervise.

Thanks for the comments. I agree 100% about reviews with nothing of the author in them.

Jim Murdoch said...

Check out One Look, Dave. I think I've picked up a real dictionary once in the last year.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. Couldn't be without my dictionary, but the time is coming when I'll not be able to pick it up.

Rachel Erstwhilely said...

book reviews unpopular? well, crap. i guess we must always beware the vagaries of the short attention span. still, your review was concise and enticing. i'm going to go request her books at my library, right now. nice cover, too, which is also important.