The Steel Garden by Lorna Waite
I am particularly interested in the links between landscape and languages and communities. It comes up in my work a fair bit – particularly poems like Goes Without Saying and the Eurydice sequence, (it will be all over the Territory of Rain poems too) and I dealt with the topic in my review of Christine de Luca’s North End of Eden published in the March issue of Northwords Now, which you can read here.
At first glance you wouldn’t think Lorna Waite’s poetry had much in common with Christine de Luca’s. It is grittily urban, unashamedly acadeemic, and quite possibly the most committed political and philosphical poetry in Scotland since MacDiarmid (whose work it vividly recalls). But what both poets are saying is that the life and heart of a community is in the way it inhabits its own particular hills, mountains, fields, rivers and coasts, the work by which people earn their living, the art they create, the lives they remember and the language they develop to tell their own stories.
Just as Christine de Luca’s poetry deals with isolated island communities, but transcends nostalgia and romanticism, Lorna Waite records the devastation of post-industrial urban communities without portraying them as victims. The people of Kilbirnie are not statistics, social studies or pupppets of a callous economic system, they are a vibrant creative community, expressing themselves through steel and sculpture, stories and music. These are poems about strength, not weakness; they are angry at defeat, not mourning a loss.
There is mourning here, however,and there are also more personal poems. If the feminist slogan was ‘the personal is political’, Lorna Waite demonstrates that the political is most profoundly personal, not to say passionate. She engages with social changes, clearances, migration and the class war through her friendships, family, archaeology and, in a profound and fascinating way, through her relationship with hill, burn, mountain and woodland, and with Gaelic.
I don’t think I can do this book justice. This poetry is completely outside my comfort zone, it doesn’t have much of what I usually demand of a poem, and I’m only just beginning to get to grips with all that does have. But, like Neruda, Lorna Waite is a poet I can see myself coming back to again and again. Go read it, and tell me what you think. You won’t be sorry.
The Steel Garden is published by Word Power Books.