Traveller’s Palm – Pruned and Re-invigorated
This book carries an experiment with a particular kind of poetry to its limits and perhaps beyond. All my adult life – my life as a poet in Trinidad, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and now Portugal – I have been oppressed with a sense of rich experience, a wealth of poetic material, unused and unusable. For an audience in Britain, anticipating reports on “the other”, there was always so much to explain before the poem could begin. Yet for me, poetry began when I lost my sense of the exotic, when – as number 46 puts it, describing my family surrounded by Kalashnikovs – “at the time, this all seemed normal”. Added to this, dated as it may now appear, was a Puritan sense of a need to correct colonial misrepresentations by a scrupulous regard for the truth of what I lived and witnessed. No need for clever hyperbole, making the familiar seem strange, when the material itself was so strong. So, taking Luís de Camões – that most literal-minded of poets – as model, I have attempted what I called in The View from the Stockade “a poetry of fact”. The “pure”, the “plain”, the “limpid”, bordering the “prosaic”: it is the tightrope Wordsworth trod. At whatever different level, I am writing in an honourable tradition, driven by something both Camões and Wordsworth implicitly recognised, that there is no such person as “the other”.
The week I landed, I couldn’t distinguish
face from face, tree from tree. I found
girls too ripe, the flowers over-doing it,
the sunsets vulgarly ostentatious,
and the night sky, in dazzling 3D
with its billion lamps, intimidated.
How could I read such over-statement
when irony withered on the tongue?
Beissel described priapic breadfruit,
hibiscus with their flies undone. Witty,
of course, but false. The trick
was never to adumbrate the exotic,
but to be re-born, writing as though
such miracles were entirely natural,
the scheme of things. As began to happen
when faces cracked into separate smiles.
from Traveller’s Palm by Landeg White
“Seven chapters contain sixty-nine quartets of quatrains, in largely unrhymed pentameter, though the form forces ear and eye to notice half-rhymes and assonance, to give attention to a language which is being paid out measure by exact measure. This is dense, ambitious writing, a poetry of witness and strict fact”
“TP resembles that dream of a ‘special delivery’ described in its second poem: a parcel arriving out of the blue, months after its despatch, full of half-remembered items from another life. The parcel of Landeg White’s life contains more of interest than most. Naturally, White is a poet of place, but quite a literary one too. He has taught, and transforms his ELF experience into a brilliant satire in the 28th poem. He likes to filter his experience of a country through his knowledge of its writers, but there is no whiff of anything academic here, only a rich feeling for history and landscape. This is not a narrative nor really a sequence, but an autographical and inter-cultural collage. Like the palm of the title, it is a self-contained green fountain”
Times Literary Supplement
Signed copies of this book can be purchased directly from the author.