REVIEW by Liza Penn-Thomas

NWR Issue 100

Air Histories

by Christopher Meredith

Meredith’s latest collection of poetry, Air Histories, explores the space between the concrete and the ethereal, the physical and meta-physical, the liminal place between earth and sky that only appears to end at the shaped horizon. Connecting with these liminal landscapes in geography and time, Meredith’s Air Histories attempts to record the minutiae of definition that fit a bigger picture – like joining the dots of a four dimensional puzzle that connects the landscape of historic pasts with the mundane of the readers’ presents. It is here, in connecting the space between places, that Meredith’s work is most successful, for it is ‘at the edges that meaning happens’.

Air Histories does not attempt to make immovable definitions. Like the subject of the opening poem, ‘Arrowhead’, meaning is defined over time according to the forces shaping it, including man’s own need for ‘death or meat’. Often Meredith’s most successful poems map the meaningful interactions between man and object. ‘Daniel’s Piano’ is beautifully understated, hinting at a depth of sorrow too great to be adequately expressed but encapsulated by the silent, unplayed piano that sits in company like a coffin at a wake.

The long lid is shut. The boxed harp says nothing.
So sad, they all say. Long past, but so sad.

‘Guitar’ also provides the means to bring eloquence to emotions too deep to express directly, celebrating the sensuality of relationship. Though sometimes faltering with the lines ‘Fats Waller gone scrawny’ and ‘botched scraps of nearly Dowland’, the connection between man and instrument also brings thrilling heights that drip with eroticism.

the nuanced shifting of your moods
with moistened air and changing heat

deep, opened rosewood
thrumming my ribs like a dulcimer

Air Histories threads chords of music, landscape, myth and death through the content of the collected works, but there is often a disconcerting feeling that this is less a single project and more a display of disparate pieces brought together in one place. The inclusion of a number of poems that play with form, to my mind emphasize this disjointedness without adding to the collection. ‘Arrowhead’, ‘Ridge’ and ‘Birch’ gained no benefit from a shaping, which only served to distract from the language. I gave up on ‘At Colonus’, but perhaps that is my own preference for poems that communicate with the reader rather than give them a migraine.

Meredith is most effective when he places man’s life and death in the fabric of the landscape – an artistic process that is perfectly captured by the rhythm-driven ‘The wool of the sheep that bit you’. At his best, Meredith brings together the past and the future with ease, giving the epic a comforting sense of the ordinary such as in ‘The Strange Music’ or juxtaposing nostalgia with modernity in ‘This Late’. Ultimately, Air Histories successfully pricks both the intellect and the emotions. It connects our own lived histories with moving stories of humanity drawn in a weathered landscape of changing horizons and shifting air.

I am becoming earth
The ridge of the mountain
Its lesions breathing poison into air.

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previous review: The Messenger
next review: Between Two Rivers


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