John Richardson’ s poem Swimming with the Bo Tree has the allure of a beautifully crafted sonnet though I don’t think the poet wants us to think of this langourous procession of couplets as belonging in any particular formal ‘box’. The language is daring,not to attract attention to its own cleverness, but to draw us uncomplainingly into the vivid experience the poem wants to share.
I loved the idea of water allowing the poet to ‘unweigh the heavy afternoon,’ of the ‘dazzle of horizontals,’ of the pool subliming its contentment. The poem has great physicality, but marries this very successfully with a sense of the inchoate, intriguing ways the mind can move when it relaxes itself. Not all its statements are boundaried by the here and now : What is language or music after all / but encoded desire; for if we say ‘water’, are we not speaking of love?
The way this openness of expression plays against the intricate visual detail of the scene – the ‘falling leaves’ are ‘tiny cordate boats’ – works extremely well.
The longer I spent with Swimming with the Bo Tree, the more I found in it to enjoy. Its formal accomplishment is a great pleasure. So is the intensity of the response to the natural world. I also liked the poet’s impulse towards the exact: how light and water move in relation to one another; how this particular stretch of water is part of the vast system of the moon and tides; how colours change as light diminishes. You are gripped by the processes here, not just by the surfaces.
John Richardson will be travelling from Swindon to read his poem on the Competition Afternoon on Saturday 26th September 2015.