Poetry review: Lingering with Trees

We were old gloves / one to the other / not a matched pair, but cut / from the same skin – irretrievable.

Poetry should be read aloud. And this applies not only one’s own writing, but also that of others. Reading out loud Robert Ramsay’s opening poem Susanna, a tribute to his late sister, not only reveals the beauty of the words he carefully placed alongside each other, it also helps to conjure up imagery and associations triggered by those words. The tribute to his late sister places the poet’s relation to his sister in a landscape that is imbued with personal and family memories. Though our interaction and experiences of the landscape may be different, we share the landscape we are cut from with those dear to us. And it is this theme that, to me, manifests itself in many guises throughout the Robert Ramsay’s collection Lingering With Trees.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a musical instrument and beard

Robert Ramsay (photographer unknown)

A retired farmer now writing poetry and running the Kinblethmont Gallery near Arbroath, Robert Ramsay spent part of working life as an engineer in West Africa before returning to his native Angus. Lingering With Trees contains nine poems reflecting the poet’s time in Africa. And as with his other poems in this collection, in An It Were Rothko, he immerses himself in the landscape.

… a single brush / the long churn of one ceaseless bar of surf. / The top part pallid blue / thin black line / then a green belt, white finishing / in wine-dark waves, before / a dry biscuit stripe of sand.

Here, you swim with the poet, feel waves build and tumble around you. The Atlantic Ocean may be different from the North Sea in Angus, but the vividness with which Ramsay conjures up the experience even transports you to places you have never been part of.

Returning to the northeast of Scotland, trees are rooted in the Angus landscape and the poet often takes time to ponder their presence. In A Clutch Of Young Pheasants you watch on as the game birds scatter in a field lined with hazel and pine, and wonder whether it is because the poet used to be a farmer that he is able to capture the very essence of the trees and birds of the Angus landscape so characteristically. In The Old Scots Pine, Ramsay likens the tree’s bark to sand:

it looks like sand / thrown where the sun should set. Read it out loud and you can hear the sand thrown and landing.

Lingering With Trees is far from a conventional collections of poems. Poems previously published in Driving Back (Blue Salt Publishing, 2009) and Ploughing On (FastPrint Publishing, 2003), have been interwoven with sections of new work. Above all, this is a collection embedding personal memories and reflections in the Angus – and West African – landscape. And it is exactly because Ramsay does so that the poet holds up a mirror for us to investigate our presences in the landscapes in which we live. The almost 300 pages of poetry with cover art by James Morrisson RSW, RSA are beautifully presented by The Lumphanan Press.

Copyright poetry Robert Ramsay, copyright review Petra Vergunst

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