Libby Hart – This Floating World Book Review
Libby Hart’s second collection of poetry, This Floating World, is structured musically. An opening section, or suite, of four poems prefigures the thematic content and style in the body section – ‘This Floating World’. The prologue section intimately “plays” with love, place, time and the natural world, where “What you cling to is connectivity, to the ache of belonging.” The primary section, comprised of 50 pages of “movements”, is a poetic exploration through the emerald, “weighted island-world” of Ireland – a nation with a rich history of important storytellers. The list is endless: Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, C. S. Lewis, Iris Murdoch, Liam O’Flaherty, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, and Oscar Wilde to cite only a fraction. Though, Hart’s poetics are more introspective than referential, the poems are situated in a highly charged geo-literary space.
The reflective sections of This Floating World are in stunningly colourful, “songlike” monologues. Hart meanders into the romantic with delicious restraint and an undying sense of tension, assisted by the use of “breath”. In ‘Lover – Donegal’ she concludes:
The breath I take is his breath,
the night that comes to shape itself is a song
The rhythmic use of the “breath” is a well-woven trope, aligned with the movement of the ocean or feelings of angst. Witness the final stanza of ‘The Other Woman’:
And this breath speaks,
This breath that finds me in the darkness.
This breath that falls and is fallen
To reinforce a sense of romanticism the poems are often coupled, such as ‘Widower Sitting On the Edge of His Bed – Kinsale’, followed by ‘His Wife, as Ghost’. This Floating World differs from confessional poetry, as it creates myriad characters, through observation and elaboration of a subject. Such qualities are most prominent in the haunting ‘The Ghost of Bridget Murphy’ or ‘Figure in Doorway – Roundwood’. Mostly, Hart assumes the role of the subject by writing in the first-person, exercising a degree of empathy and reflexivity.
One of the most striking features is the geographically-rendered titles. For the most part, they take the following form: ‘Elderly Man – Fanad’ or ‘Tourist – Limerick’. With locations indicated from the outset, there is a spatial immediacy, both vivid and captivating. In a sense, this is a poetic travelogue of both land and psyche; as new corners of Ireland are exposed, so too is the pensive, interior of poet.
Conversely, there are moments of ambiguity that stray from her penchant for clarity. The wordless ‘The Rain, Speaking’ is a clear example of this, consisting solely of a Rorschach-esque image of printed raindrops. This is the weakest poetic fragment, since it jars the flow of then entire collection to no apparent end. Experimental visual poetry certainly holds weight – the work of Toby Fitch is proof of this; Hart’s attempt is simply not consistent with the narrative and lyrical quality of This Floating World. In lieu of her descriptive precision, the reader is left feeling somewhat abandoned at this juncture of frail symbolism.
Nevertheless, Hart has exceptional descriptive focus, particularly given the free-verse style she espouses; with an abandon of formal boundaries comes a poetic responsibility. She honours this, charging almost every poem with energetic language, incorporating extended metaphors and fluent echoes (as opposed to rhymes). These threaded metaphorical symbols are often objects of the natural world, given a metaphysical quality. In ‘Waterfall Spirit – Glencar Waterfall’ she observes:
as the waterfall breathes in its ways,
seethes in its splendour.
This rush, this full push forward.
I tumble along its force,
Alive and lively
Instead of placing hazy, spiritual ideas upon nature, Hart finely balances the romantic and the realistic. She deals with the heaviest of themes – death, decay, loneliness, longing, and identity – with a lightness of touch, both enviable and admirable. The strength of the above passage lies in placing the individual besides nature equally, rather than in a power-relationship where “man” empirically masters the elements. A stunning poem ‘Wave Upon Wave – off the Coast of Donegal’ exemplifies this:
There is really only one ocean,
Only one body of water.
No need for that human blather to label all things,
we are many, but we are one.
The final stanza ends with “Our great accomplice, all this gossip of water / It makes our boldness tremble”, discarding trite, human-centred, new age ideas. This Floating World is a fine exploration of basic aspects of humanity, told through small narratives and fine details in a highly stimulating landscape.