By Judith Fitzgerald
Our subject being Poetry, I propose to speak not only of the art in general but also of its species and their respective capacities; of the structure of plot required for a good poem; of the number and nature of the constituent parts of a poem; and likewise of any other matters in the same line of inquiry. Let us follow the natural order and begin with the primary facts (Aristotle, "On the Art of Poetry").
The primary facts?
Robin Robertson, married with children, hails from Scone, a suburb of Perth (on the north-east coast of Scotland), with a population of approximately 4,000 souls. When he relocated to London a number of years ago, he did so to assume the position of Editor at Jonathan Cape prior to becoming, most recently, its Deputy Publishing Director.
Robertson is the author of three accomplished collections of poetry, the first of which, 1997's A Painted Field, earned deservedly high praise from Kazuo Ishiguro -- "A superb debut . . . darkly chiselled poems haunted by mortality and the fragility of life's pleasures." -- when it appeared shortly after the unassuming author's 40th birthday. The assessment of Ishiguro (and myriad others) proved correct when A Painted Field was named the recipient of that year's Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize and the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award.
Slow Air (2002) preceded 2006's Swithering (the first of his works to be shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize which did earn the Forward Best Poetry Book of the Year when it was released). An astute editor, Robertson also compiled Mortification: Writers' Stories of their Public Shame. In 2004, he was designated one of the "Next Generation" poets by the Poetry Book Society as well as receiving the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Subsequently, his translation of Euripides' Medea was published at the same time as The Deleted World, a selection of new versions of poems by the lauded Swede, Tomas Tranströmer.
Concerning "the same line of inquiry?"
Q: Have you ever written, on your own terms, a "perfect" poem?
Q: Which of yours do you feel comes closest to this?
A: I'm more attracted to "flaw." I have written a few interestingly flawed poems.
Q: What would you do if you were told you were never to write poetry again?
A: In common with many writers, I often fear I will never be able to write again. If you were to rephrase that as, "What would you do if you were told you would never need to write poetry again?" I would imagine my reaction might be one of inexpressible relief.
Q: Is poetry worth it, generally, for others and yourself?
A: Important poetry -- and art in general -- is worth a great deal, and seems to extract a great deal from the maker.
Q: Does worth even enter the question?
A: "Worth" should enter every question.
Q: You have said, in another context, "Art is difficult" and much of what we "consume" during these gawd-awful times is disposable. Do you write against this on some atomic level?
A: I simply follow lines of enquiry. Poetry seems to me, initially, an act of curiosity.
Q: If you are not a postmodernist (and, I believe you are not), am I right in designating you one of the last great modernists; or, would you consider yourself a contra-modernist, if such a self-evident term existed?
A: I have no idea.
Q: Do these labels make any difference, actually?
A: Not to me.
Q: What is your idea of "perfect" poem?
A: I don't believe in "perfection."
Q: What artists / authors / creators "sustain" you, provide you with nourishment, confirmation, consolation (in both your writing and your world-view); plus, whose work do you consider world-class keeping you alive and "awake?"
A: I'm currently steeped again in Ovid, with Euripides on one side to keep me from running away with myself.
Q: What's your favourite food?
A: Lagavulin .
"Our subject being Poetry," the following represents but one of Robertson's respective most perfect:
NEW GRAVITY Treading through the half-light of ivy and headstone, I see you in the distance as I'm telling our daughter about this place, this whole business: a sister about to be born, how a life's new gravity suspends in water. Under the oak, the fallen leaves are pieces of the tree's jigsaw; by your father's grave you are pressing acorns into the shadows to seed. -- A Painted Field