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Book Review: 'Sailing The Forest'


As winter takes a final bow, our reviewer Tess Taylor wants to recommend a book of poems that's carried her through this season. It's called "Sailing The Forest" by Scottish poet Robin Robertson.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: During the first dark days of the year, and even now as the blue predawn light slinks in a little earlier each morning, I've been savoring Robin Robertson's haunting collection. These poems are sonically rich, studded with wordplay and flickering light. Because Robertson's Scottish, he's got materials we newfangled Americans only envy. He writes about selkies, who are Celtic shape-changers; dwayberries, a kind of deadly nightshade. And like Proteus himself, he can casually remake Ovid's stories in Scottish villages that already seem older than Rome.

What life there is is felt and phantom, Robertson writes, and in his lines we welcome the ghosts. I admire Robertson's knack for routing his poems through the otherworldly, but I'm also struck by how he roots in the stuff of language, shaping thought into sound and letting sound seduce thought. I'm struck by lines like (reading) ducks, flummoxed, sliver and skite on the ice.

Or (reading) the frost's acoustic, futile against such silence.

I'm also taken by the way Robertson uses the poem as a place to lose himself and find himself, sometimes all at once, as in this poem where, looking at laundry drying on a line, he discovers a life snagged there, drenched, shrunken, unrecognizably mine.

BLOCK: The words of poet Robin Robertson from his book "Sailing The Forest." Poet Tess Taylor had our review. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.