The Wrecking Light

by Robin Robertson

A new collection of poetry by acclaimed UK poet Robin Robertson

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547483337
  • ISBN-10: 0547483333
  • Pages: 112
  • Publication Date: 08/11/2011
  • Carton Quantity: 48

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book

    Robin Robertson’s fourth collection is an intense, moving, bleakly lyrical, and at times shocking book. These poems are written with the authority of classical myth, yet sound utterly contemporary. The poet’s gaze—whether on the natural world or the details of his own life— is unflinching and clear, its utter seriousness leavened by a wry, dry, and disarming humor.

    Alongside fine translations from Neruda and Montale and dynamic retellings of stories from Ovid, the poems here pitch the power and wonder of nature against the frailty and failure of the human. This is a book of considerable grandeur and sweep that confirms Robertson as one of the most arresting and powerful poets at work today.

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts



    I am almost never there, in these
    old photographs: a hand
    or shoulder, out of focus; a figure
    in the background,
    stepping from the frame.
    I see myself, sometimes, in the restless
    blur of a child, that flinch
    in the eye, or the way
    sun leaks its gold into the print;
    or there, in that long white gash
    across the face of the glass
    on the wall behind. That
    smear of light
    the sign of me, leaving.

    Look closely
    at these snapshots, all this
    Kodacolor going to blue, and you’ll
    start to notice. When you finally see me,
    you’ll see me everywhere: floating
    over crocuses, sandcastles,
    fallen leaves, on those
    melting snowmen, their faces
    drawn in coal – among all
    the wedding guests,
    the dinner guests, the birthdayparty
    guests – this smoke
    in the emulsion, the flaw.
    A ghost is there; the ghost gets up to go.



    The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
    has woken the sealed lake,
    leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
    just curved plates of air
    re-shaping under the trap-ice,
    straining to give; the groans and rumbles
    like someone shifting heavy tables far below.
    I snick a stone over the long sprung deck
    to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying
    slide of a bottleneck, its
    tremulous ululation to the other shore.
    The rocks are ice-veined; the trees
    swagged with snow.
    Here and there, a sudden frost
    has caught some turbulence in the water
    and made it solid: frozen in its distress
    to a scar, or a skin-graft.
    Everywhere, frost-heave has jacked up boulders
    clear of the surface, and the ice-shove
    has piled great slabs on the lake-edge
    like luggage tumbled from a carousel.

    A racket of jackdaws, the serrated call
    of a falcon as I walk out onto the lake.

    A living lens of ice; you can hear it bending,
    breathing, re-adjusting its weight and light
    as the hidden tons of water
    swell and stretch underneath,
    thickening with cold.
    A low grumble, a lingering vibrato, creaks
    that seem to echo back and forth for hours;
    the lake is talking to itself. A loud
    twang in the ice. Twitterings
    in the railway lines
    from a train about to arrive.
    A pencilled-in silence,
    hollow and provisional.
    And then it comes.
    The detonating crack, like a dropped plank,
    as if the whole lake has snapped in two
    and the world will follow.
    But all that happens
    is a huge release of sound: a boom
    that rolls under the ice for miles,
    some fluked leviathan let loose
    from centuries of sleep, trying to push through,
    shaking the air like sheet metal,
    like a muffled giant drum.

    I hear the lake all night as a distant war.
    In the morning’s brightness
    I brush the snow off with a glove,
    smooth down a porthole in the crust
    and find, somehow, the living green beneath.
    The green leaf looks back, and sees
    a man walking out in this shuddering light
    to the sound of air under the ice,
    out onto the lake, among sun-cups,
    snow penitents: a drowned man, waked
    in this weathering ground.



    for Alasdair Roberts

    I remember the girl
    with the hare-lip
    down by Clachan Bridge,
    cutting up fish
    to see how they worked;
    by morning’s end her nails
    were black red, her hands
    all sequined silver.
    She unpuzzled rabbits
    to a rickle of bones;
    dipped into a dormouse
    for the pip of its heart.
    She’d open everything,
    that girl.
    They say they found
    wax dolls in her wall,
    poppets full of human hair,
    but I’d say they’re wrong.
    What’s true is
    that the blacksmith’s son,
    the simpleton,
    came down here once
    and fathomed her.
    Claimed she licked him
    clean as a whistle.
    I remember the tiny stars
    of her hands around her belly
    as it grew and grew, and how
    after a year, nothing came.
    How she said it was still there,
    inside her, a stone-baby.
    And how I saw her wrists
    bangled with scars
    and those hands flittering
    at her throat,
    to the plectrum of bone
    she’d hung there.
    As to what happened
    to the blacksmith’s boy,
    no one knows
    and I’ll keep my tongue.
    Last thing I heard, the starlings
    had started
    to mimic her crying,
    and she’d found how to fly.



    Sifting sand in the Starsign Hotel
    on 96th and Madison,
    trying not to hear the sirens: the heart’s
    fist, desire’s empty hand.
    The room awash with its terrible light;
    a sky unable to rain. Cradling a glass
    of nothing much at all, it’s all
    come down to this: the electric fan’s
    stop-start – the stalled, half-circle twist
    of draught over the bed; the sea-spill
    of sheets, the head in storm. Look
    at what’s beached here on the night-stand:
    a flipped photograph and a silk scarf, a set
    of keys. These tulips, loosening in a vase.

  • Reviews
    "Robertson's fourth collection is astonishing in its eclecticism..." Publishers Weekly "There's a drama and majesty here that also teaches us a lesson: That a writer, a poet especially, has the power to make an act of recovery. In "Leaving St. Kilda" Robertson recalls all those unique, old names (and who, by the way, first named them?) before they're lost — before the clouds stream over them, as they do over Mullach Mòr, and they're forgotten. Elsewhere in this somber, beautiful collection, Robertson does the same with smaller, fleeting moments of insight as his speakers confront the passing of time — how, for instance, in "Landfall," the "crates that once held herring,/ freshly dead, now hold distance, nothing but the names/ of the places I came from, years ago." Los Angeles Times