The Odin Stone is Stuart Henson’s new collection from ‘the excellent Shoestring Press’.
It brings together a number of lyric poems written before the publication of his last Shoestring book (the narrative A Place Apart) and a rich sampling of his recent work—including the brand new Pushkin Variations, three of which appear in the current edition of Modern Poetry in Translation.
A fridge-magnet version of Williams’s ‘Red Wheelbarrow’; a riddle; a page from Isaac Newton’s notebook; a steamy encounter in rain-sodden Paris; a journey down the south shore of Long Island…
These poems have appeared in magazines in this country and in the USA including Agenda, The London Magazine, Poetry Review, The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, The Spectator, Stand and The Hudson Review.
At the heart of the collection lie two further sequences—Rilke in Florence and Verlaine in Camden—which allow the author space and place to inhabit imaginations not his own.
72pp paperback ISBN 978-1-907356-39-1 £9.00 October 2011
Weeding the corner of the gravel path
I dig him up, among the bony roots
of couch-grass and the sun-dried stones:
headless; footless; a victim of time’s
atrocity. Somehow he is not quite
three-dimensional, but elongated,
skinny in the tatters of his uniform.
His bugler’s arms are tucked, foetal,
as if he lay forever recovering.
The earth has begun to soften him
to a thin vein of mineral.
And this is the fate of soldiers—
when the hand that moved them
tires and seeks another kind of play.
(from ‘The Odin Stone’. First published in Thumbscrew)
‘…that’s what life is: six fireflies and more and more. And you want to deny it!’ RILKE
You could make a fugue
of six notes, glowing like this
on the stave of dusk,
or follow them
into a hundred byways of the wood
and watch them multiply
a phosphor luminosity:
through the gauze of sense
in the shadow-depths.
They are the city
of the stars that came to rest
a moment in this broken earth.
(from ‘Rilke in Florence’. First published in The Hudson Review)
The Odin Stone can be ordered directly from Shoestring Press, 19 Devonshire Avenue, Beeston , Nottingham NG9 1BS or from your local bookshop.
‘The Odin Stone by Stuart Henson carries a cargo of worlds too, and is impressive in its range of allusions and use of forms. In the sequence ‘Rilke in Florence’, Rilke’s creative consciousness becomes a lens through which temporality, painting, light and shade are observed and celebrated. Financial betrayal of the common good is skilfully etched into the landscape of ‘Judas Trees’, where “the river is all / pieces of silver” and “the Judas trees / burst into shame”. From ‘Verlaine in Camden’ to variations on Pushkin to the building of a bridge or a metaphysical description of eggshells fallen from the nest, Henson develops dramas that value the personal narrative, the meditative eye (as imaged in the Odin stone on the cover), and explore pressures on individual perception whether linguistic, emotional or political. Henson is a witty poet too; a delightful poem ‘The Umbrella’ rhythmically echoes the tripping rush of a woman going to meet her lover. Half-rhyme is used in these couplets with brio, avoiding the sentimentality that full rhyme might accord by maintaining the lovers’ slight separateness. Henson’s work makes literary expectations of its readers, but is never simply showy; form echoes meaning, and the contemporary world and its concerns are vividly present in this enjoyable collection.’
STEPHANIE NORGATE Poetry Review 102: 2
A ‘lost god’s eye’ (source of poetry in Norse myth) peers from between ink-bottles and sharpened pencils on the cover of Stuart Henson’s fourth collection, as if warning us not to be lulled by the apparently tranquil fin-de-siècle settings. A stony gaze pierces the sepia casements of his verse. A missile will turn up in ‘the heartwood’s depth’ of a childhood tree (‘The Cannonball’); along a country lane there may be ‘cyanide in the backs of … four-by-fours’(‘Brock’); and there is always the ‘wasps’ nest, swaying in the hawthorn’ (‘Oracle’) The nature studies, spiritual probings, snapshots of domestic tenderness and everyday fragility that characterised Henson’s Peterloo collections are still here, but there is a more cosmopolitan, literary voice now: Woolf at Rodmell, Verlaine in Camden, a sequence of sultry Rilke pieces (nine ‘Hours’ imagined as women in Florence) and a section of ‘Pushkin Variations’. The unspoken presence, however, is D.H.Lawrence (‘loins’ is not a word many poets would risk today), though Henson’s formal virtuosity has outgrown his master.
Most successful are the occasions where the poet leaves the twilight and sets his masks aside – in‘After Pushkin’, for example, ‘Caught in the clatter of a city street,/or stepping through the still hush of a church,/or at a gig, maybe, crushed in the mosh-pit,/my mind plays God, reminding me that each//of us must pass into the world of darkness’; or in ‘Bridge’, which tells of his grandfather’s meticulous design and construction of a Chinese Bridge over the Ouse: ‘The men who built the bridge stood at the back./Nobody thought a workman worth the time/to write an invitation.’ That stone eye glints. But it can wink, too, as when he tosses us a riddle or one of his Martian similes (youngsters sharing an iPod are ‘Like roped climbers,/a yoked team,/like Castor & Pollux floating in space’) or in his fridge-magnet parody of plums in the ice-box, which ends with a flourish worthy of Charles Ives.
JOHN GREENING The Times Literary Supplement Feb 10th 2012