The Long Take

Colin Burrow writes:

Robin Robertson is something of a specialist in pain. He usually describes what painful events look like from the outside rather than how they feel from within. It’s often as though sufferers are so entranced by the appearance of what’s happening to them that they can’t actually see how bad it is. There is a fine slight poem from Slow Air (2002) called ‘Break’ in which a woman is washing glasses in the sink and hears

a dull click, like a tongue,\ under the soap suds.\ The foam pinked.\ Now she could see blood\ smoking from the flap of skin

She is left ‘holding water, feeling nothing’.The anaesthetised slice under water which may end it all is a Robertson signature moment. He often writes as though a poetic image itself has an anaesthetising effect. A poem gruesomely entitled ‘The Halving’ relates having open heart surgery, and ‘A&E’ describes a visit to Casualty afterwards when the sutures open. A triage nurse waves him away until he opens his tweed to show her ‘my chest undone like some rare waistcoat’ with ‘its red, wet-look leatherette,/those fancy, flapping lapels’ of flesh. In one of his poems about Strindberg he has the playwright admit ‘I steer towards catastrophe/then write about it.’ Catastrophe transformed to image as though to neutralise its pain is very much Robertson’s thing.

(LRB 30 August 2018)

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