I should start by saying that, although I love being out walking in wild places, I am not especially a fan of nature poetry. I always feel that poetry rarely does justice to things of great natural beauty and that I prefer the real thing. However, Chris Kinsey’s writing about the great outdoors is distinctly different. Her work does not just describe grasses, wildflowers, birds and water in close detail; it inserts human warmth, personal story telling and weaves a beguiling magic into the places she takes us.
From the front cover, through the sixty-odd poems in this collection, we are on a journey with Kinsey, who deftly invites us to savour the narrative and accompany her through various stages of her life. To say the poems reflect her love of and affinity with flora and fauna is to miss her humour, political opinions and commentary on the human condition.
Clearly Kinsey, although at times in her life an effective teacher, found being a child in the classroom very boring and deeply confining. The riches of the rivers and hills of Mid Wales were as friends and offered a more meaningful education. In Private Collection, the headmaster seems the only one to recognise this, with his advice to ”keep going for bike rides”.
Kinsey employs many different poetical forms and often plays with how the words look on the page. In Clarach Bay, there is a vertical string of tumbling capital letters spelling out the movement of shingle, and in other poems Kinsey uses spacing to make the words occupy the full page with a rare confidence. There are sonnets, High Summer on a Shropshire Hill, prose poems, Private Collection and Cut, poems in neat three or four line stanzas, and so much more. This willingness to experiment is like a challenge to the reader to take notice and it definitely forces you to keep turning the pages.
My own particular delight is in how Kinsey uses the senses, notably the sounds of everything she encounters. Many of the poems demand to be read aloud to get the cries of curlews, the irritation of the “scratchy biro” in an exam, the fabulous dialogue in Last Train from Aberystwyth. Kinsey gives us drama in False Orchids, so full of the sounds of a medical emergency with its “Beeps. Cheeps. Shrieks”, and the “whischt” of a heron taking off in Confession. Her mastery of alliteration and internal rhyme is effective as in “the standing stones have shrunk, sunk deeper” and the stones “bite through a beard of bracken” in Four Visits to Mitchell’s Fold.
Kinsey demonstrates her wry wit on many occasions. In First Aid she relieves the boredom of “rolling healthy strangers into the recovery position” by clearing her airway “with a draught of deep September”. Occasionally she pokes gentle fun at religion. In Another Church Tour, she muses on how she might “switch a hymn number to 666”, and in To Enlli she acknowledges her pilgrimage would be “not for sainthood, but for words buoyant as fronds of bladderwrack”.
I like the use of quotations from people such as Carlo Levi, WB Yeats, RS Thomas, WH Davies, Milton and others, both as epigraphs and within the body of a poem, to add texture and authority. Kinsey often refers to the cycles and changes of the seasons; she may even use this as a kind of extended metaphor running through the collection to explain how she lives her days. Another theme throughout is her love of faithful companion dogs who are evident both in passing and when whole lines or poems are populated by them. What a joy is her poem Call the Greyhounds with its hyphenated descriptors “Quilt-snuggler, Dream-twitcher, Hearth-gracer”. Perhaps the seasons and her hounds come together in perfect harmony in Watching for Season Change:
“When fresh grass spears turn my greyhounds to grazing gazelles and the great cherry races start, I submit”. The poem finishes with, for me, the most telling lines in the whole collection, “if climate shifts out of calling range we will all lose our footing.”
Kinsey proves her worth in these lines; she is not a sentimental describer of nature but a writer whose own awareness of her surroundings makes us examine our whole relationship with one another, with animals and with the wider world in its modern context. Kinsey is so much more than a fine nature writer, but an observer of the interaction between people and places, sights and sounds, myth and reality.
Order your copy of Chris Kinsey’s From Rowan Ridge (Fair Acre Press) here: http://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/from-rowan-ridge-chris-kinsey/