Perched on a Hawthorn


by Jessica Sequeira

Winter Migrants,
by Tom Pickard,
Carcanet, 80 pp.

Winter isn’t so much a season as a state of mind. Midnight blues, slate greys, rich yellows. A Schubert lieder, a Vallotton field, the delicate frame of a tree by Nash. Tom Pickard writes in a particularly north English register; his poems have the harsh spareness of winter climes. He lived in Newcastle when he wrote them, and its bleak lovely colours, silhouettes and brick seem conducive to such sweeping summings-up, such takings of the view.

Pickard never speaks of his experiences directly, but his shifting moodscape is sharp-edged. He writes on nature and eroticism, in speech always direct even when slangy. He’s not averse to puns, or Geordie slang. (I’ve enriched my stock.) The long title poem, “Lark & Merlin”, references a relationship in which poet and lover, chaser and chased, predator and prey, grow confused. It’s about the impermanence of love, being, writing — and how those things, if they exist in time, always recur.

What is winter? What is a migrant? Pickard’s poems question everything. They’re comforting and serious, playful and true. Sometimes they’re uncomfortably harsh — he criticises poets who exercise “a toothless craft”, the “jousting match of polite poetries”. Diary entries are written like asides, noting down details of fauna, landscape, response. They glide through time but are timeless. One notes, a pleasant reminder, that rhymes and jokes can accompany a lyrical sensibility. At one point he asks: “the phone rings / am i in?”, confused or unsure about whether to assume a position of openness or feigned disinterest.

Though Pickard seems to be known for his gigs at Morden Tower hosting the likes of Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, he seems to me a great poet of aloneness. According to the intro he lived by himself for ten years, and he writes of how he is “conscious of solitude in a way that’s new”. He’s attentive to the disembodied sense of self — “I follow my feet home” — and knows what time spent outside of normal human interactions can entail.

Pickard is interested in the erotic as art, and suspicious of “high art”. He openly expresses his pleasure in sex and music. He’s fond of paradoxes — “how complex easy is”. The intangible, the tangible. But it’s hard not to think. Of desire, he writes — “What an exquisite word that is”, thinking of the word not desire. “When a mind seeks / to know itself / the last place it looks / is the body.” When politics are mentioned for the first time after many pages, it seems startling. (The mini-autobiography More Pricks than Prizes is supposed to be chock-full of period-era underground gossip—must look it up.)

Nature is an unresponsive blank, an unrequited love — “what the heart loves / loves not the heart”. The gorgeous delicate trees speeding by outside don’t even know we’re here. The self is an animal. A harsh, spare fact, but true. How to find the beauty in that? The gulls drift down in a confetti flurry, as we scavenge.

About the Author:

Jessica Sequeira lives and writes in Buenos Aires.