Monday, December 05, 2005


These days when even quiet walks in the English countryside can be destroyed by mobs of wealthy yobs, often racist, and whose politics are usually to the right of Cheney, dressed to kill, and riding horses across fields, participating in one of the cruellest blood sports imaginable - (flaunting the new law recently passed banning such activities) "Riding To Hounds" or "The Hunt" - wherein a fox is torn to shreds by a pack of bloodhounds, it is high time to call attention to a peaceful little book titled THE ENGLISH PATH by Kim Taplin, a poet who has lived many years in rural Oxfordshire.

In her book she discusses the public rights of way through forests, moors, mountainsides, and fields, the hill-and-dale and stiles of the imagination, and across streams and rivers, which so many poets and prose writers have made good use of in so many works, and so many painters have immortalized: Millais, Constable, and even Beatrix Potter, are reproduced in black-and-white in this exceptionally well-produced small press publication from Perry Green Press (Suffolk, UK, 2000). In fact this is the second (expanded) edition of the book initially published in 1979 by The Boydell Press.

Taplin quotes fully and carefully, extracts from so many poems, from John Clare to William Barnes to Robert Graves and De La Mare to contemporary poets Thomas A. Clark, Chris Torrance, and Barry MacSweeney, most notably his "Pearl" poems, that I think some enterprising publisher would ask for an anthology.

Barry MacSweeney particularly must be mentioned as a man who only yesterday was with us. I remember his dramatic and impassioned reading in London, at the Subvoicive series, of what we didn't know would be his last book, THE BOOK OF DEMONS, containing the Pearl sequence, his greatest achievment, and a lasting one, published by Bloodaxe (UK).

Kim Taplin knows that from Hardy (whom I believe the English, almost, it seems, in-unison, over-rate as a poet) to Jeremy Hooker (much under-rated) it is difficult to overestimate the sweep and influence of this specific kind of nature poetry. Edward Thomas's work looms large, and rightfully so, and Taplin quotes from LOB:

"Nobody can't stop 'ee. It's
a footpath, right enough."

Or, as MacSweeney writes:

"The upstream heather says more than I do whispering
Its purple blues."

Of course, it's not all wildflowers and Eden. There were dastardly deeds committed: John Clare wrote:

"Where stepping stones stride o'er the brook
The rosy maid I overtook."

Taplin does bemoan the lack of women walkers, for this reason specifically, in deserted lanes in the country.

In the U.S., it took fortitude, determination, and unity of purpose to stop the greed of developers and speculators , as Lorine Niedecker documented in her fine long poem, WINTERGREEN RIDGE: "Women/of good wild stock/stood stolid/before machines/They stopped bulldozers/cold..."

At any rate, the eco-warriors who will strive to stop any encroachment upon the ancient rights of way will find plenty of ammunition in this book.


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