John Burnside The Hunt in the Forest
I have had this book almost a month now, and though I read it the very same day I got it, here I am only just posting about it.
I am very fond of Burnside’s poetry, ever since I read The Myth of the Twin. I was gob-smacked when I heard him read from Four Quartets which is the third section of Gift Songs and has all the complexities and layers and entrelacements of music, as well as the obvious influences of TS Eliot. So when I found myself in St Andrews for StAnza in a very crowded coffee-bar, and it looked as if the only place left was beside JB I decided I couldn’t be that bold, and sneaked off into an obscure corner till I could stop myself doing the ‘we’re not worthy’ bit.
This volume has even more echoes and influences of T S Eliot, but it’s a lot easier to get your head round. It has a similar hypnotic evocative loveliness; the poems are full of rain and flowers, the sea, bats, snow, light and shadow. Burnside’s world is inherently permeable, dust, pollen, feathers, snow, memories, shadows, ghosts, alternative possibilities slip through it, changing, hinting, fading. Haunting is the word for it.
And haunting it is, because this book is haunted by death. Deaths of friends and family; our own death, imagined, feared, longed for, or evaded; village deaths that become a matter of rumour and folk-lore; the death of animals and the guilt (or lack of it) that goes with it. Death hunts us in the forest of our lives, our dreams, and sometimes we hunt it, and sometimes we hunt each other.
It is an extraordinarily beautiful book, but it is also astonishingly creepy. On the other hand, there are three poems called Amor Vincit Omnia – rays of light in what would otherwise be a very dark place indeed.