Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends
Some Letters Never Sent by Neil Curry. Enitharmon. £9.99
Neil Curry has lived in Ulverston most of his adult life, but in letters that were never sent to anyone, anywhere at any time, he can range the whole world of time and space.
He might even write to Timothy, the tortoise, who might be "Happily chomping away among the strawberry beds". He might swap lives with Timothy's master, Gilbert White, the eighteenth century "Naturalis-cum-parson-/ cum-poet, yes, I think I could manage that. I'd preach / The Wisdom of God as manifest in his Creation."
And he might write to a girl he loved fifty years ago, Mlle Lucien Bertin, and remember the forest walks, flicking one franc pieces for the carp to take, a quick-fire artist catching "the line / Of your cooky cheeks to perfection" and remember sitting for the last time on "that drear October evening".
He might be "sitting/ On the beach at Aldingham" facing the gun-metal sea
and write to Euripides in his cave by the Aegean. Or he might write to Angela Carter recalling their days as students in Bristol when they smoked so much "The air would get to be dish-cloth grey".
He might write to Sir John Barrow, a bureaucrat who despatched so many eager young men to trace the Niger or find the North-West Passage. Barrow's Monument is "that hundred-foot high/ pepper-pot replica/ of the Eddystone Lighthouse/ on the top of Hoad Hill". Sir John Barrow is forgotten just as he forgot Ulverston as he sent those young adventurers to their deaths.
He might write to Emily Dickinson and accuse her of telling "a bit of a whopper when you said your poems were your / Letter to the World that never wrote to you." She "showed us the way single words / may have poetry within themselves / to elbow out whole sentences" and he can tell her of his favourite words.
Another recipient of these gently witty verses is Dr Peter Mark Roget, the man famous for compiling the thesaurus. Words provided his "own stay against confusion. / and what confusion. / Madness didn't just run in your family, did it? No, it / Careered, scampered, galloped, printed, sped, / and made haste." Roget's name has become "synonymous with synonyms" although he saw "Every word unique /In itself, distinct."
And he could write to The Venerable Bede thinking of him as a little boy when he and Coelfrith were the only survivors of the plague in Jarrow: "those bulbos / Big as apples / the retching and the deadly / Ring o' roses before the skin turned black" or thinking of the sea otters drying St Cuthbert's feet, or the flight of a sparrow. "Bede, hinny, you showed us miracles / Can flare out from so little as the turning of a page."
And he could write to Job, and Margaret Fell in Swarthmore Hall, Ulverston, and William Tyndale and Antonio Vivaldi in the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice and so many more.
And he could write to Horace on his farm in the Sabine Hills. "And it is here now/ That I am sitting. finishing this letter / Watching the leaves of an oak tree / That isn't even ours come cluttering down / All around me."
This is poetry of leaves falling throughout history. Each letter can reflect in everyday language on history, on literature, on the mundane and the universal, on the impersonal and the intimate. The form is as free as a scribbled note, but the words and thoughts come from a life spent with poetry.
In his own way, Neil Curry shows us little miracles that flare out from the turning of a page.