A Book Review from Colin Dardis for the Corbenic Poetry Path: Collected Poems

Book Review: Corbenic Poetry Path: Collected Poems

If you happen to find yourself in Perth & Kincross in Scotland, it’s worth venturing out of your way to find the quiet hamlet of Trochry, near the town of Dunkeld. Near the River Braan, leading into the River Tay, you’ll find an unexpected literary treat in a country path: the Corbenic Poetry Path.

The path is 3.5 kilometres where “people, poetry and landscape meet”: the work of poets have been carved in stone, etched in glass, encased in resin, burned into wood and installed along the way, designed with a variety of surfaces to be as sensitive as possible to the wild terrain it passes through. Corbenic Poetry Path: Collected Poems brings together the words and images from the trail, from the likes of John Glenday, Jon Plunkett (the path’s founder), Hazel B. Cameron, Jim Mackintosh, Stephanie Conn and more. Each poem is accompanied by an image of its location or corresponding marker along the path: we find words carved into the end of logs, pinned onto signposts, collected across fragments of flint, engraved into clusters of rock.

It’s clear that the photography in the collection offers a visual treat, and one can easily imagine the joy of wandering down the path, spotting these hidden (and not-so-hidden) verses. But what of the poems themselves? As expected, we are rich in the pastoral here: celebrations of landscape, of nature, of how both resonate in our imagination. Glenday gives us the image of canaries singing “back towards what little light there was”, a reminder that the light that nature provides can never be extinguished. Accompanied by this light, in the presence of natural surroundings, Margaret Gillies Brown’s poem The Inner Citadel invites us to pause and reflect, to realise that a forest park is perfect for practising mindfulness:

Eventually all of us
Should adventure
Down into ourselves:
When the living and loving
Has quietened
We should take the journey
Into the dark interior

Andy Jackson’s poem New World Order, beseeches the reader to get back to nature – perhaps more of our old ways than new – and cast off rules “derived from chilly mathematics”. Instead, we can celebrate the feelings of “running just to feel the wind” or “jumping up to feel the pull back down”. The whole poem carefully balancing a jaded adult voice with the want to rediscover the sweet innocence of a playful child, and stands as a powerful testament to the simple pleasures found along the path.

Elsewhere, we experience the straightforward rewards of walking (consider Plunkett’s denim “darkened to the knee” and “the booted pressure, | burst and pleasure”); the movement of seasons and weather (Brian Johnstone’s sheep tracks freezing over, “gloss mud to darkened, flesh-like textures”); and the restorative force of wildlife (Eileen Carney Hulme moving “close to earth | close to beginning” whilst in the sanctuary of a forest). The overall effect is moving: it makes you want to be close to nature too, to run out of the city and find a leaf-strewn trail to wander down.

As with any anthology bringing together poets of different experiences and perspectives, there is some rough within the smooth, some poems stronger than others, some not quite hitting their mark. But collectively, this is a very successful collection: a carnival of countryside that implores the reader to join in, to breath in the landscape and place yourself amidst the woodland and installations. At the very least, you’ll want to open an window and remove a degree of separation between yourself and the glorious outside, because these poems remind us that there is a bounty of glory and majesty to be found in nature, just awaiting our footfall, just awaiting the wanderer’s awe.

Corbenic Poetry Path: Collected Poems is available from Diehard Publishers.