Translate, I hear you say. Translate.
‘Sorel Point’ – Charles Causley
– William Jay Smith – reviewing Secret Destinations: Selected Poems in 1990 – praised Causley as cool and chaste – perhaps untranslatable to the omnipresent and overestimated baroque buffoonery of Smith’s contemporary American scene – Marianne Moore having been his last bastion of reticence – yet describes a new and personal hurt apparent in Causley’s lines –
– Secret Destinations – the Smith reviewed American Selected publication – shares its title – and many poems – with a 1984 UK Causley collection – Both begin with ‘Sorel Point’ which Smith presumptively locates on the poet’s bleak native Cornish coastline – Sorel Point is in reality to be found on Jersey –
– In ‘Sorel Point’ the poet draws lines – horizon – tide – a rail – cliffside – A pair / Of gulls switchback on curving air – the path up which the addressee has reascended to wife and children – the final line drawn between addressee and speaker with the advice – Translate, I hear you say. Translate. – a line Smith worryingly calls triumphant –
– Line is inescapable in Causley’s writing room at Cyprus Well – stripy flock wallpaper and worn chair coverings – of course the spines of books and lines they contain – but pertinently four paintings – with more around the house – by the poet’s friend Robert – Bob – Tilling – whose seeming seascapes and landscapes – perhaps his native Jersey – perhaps Smith’s imagined Cornwall – tread a line between abstraction and figuration – all the viewer can be sure of is line –
– Next Smith discusses ‘A Little Story’ – a poem not included in the UK publication – though now available in the Collected Poems – quoting from the final two stanzas –
Reaching a tender fame, he seemed
As self-sufficient as the sun.
Safe in a tower of words he hid
His gradual wound from all but one
Who found, unsought, another love;
Untaught, another life to live …
– Smith – without providing biographical evidence – nor quibbling over geographies – is happy to draw a line between poet and speaker – not only by comparing these two poems – but throughout his whole review – announcing – This is a kind of autobiography in verse … –
Andrew Fentham is writer-in-residence until Easter 2017. The three visual pieces attached to this post attempt to translate line through an understanding of the work and lives of Charles Causley and Bob Tilling.