‘The machine in the title of Richard Skinner’s new collection is the cherry tree of its opening poem, which “explodes in white noise every spring”. It is a “perfect” machine, conducting towards healing, loading “a sense of surety and calm”. As does, in fact, the poem itself, with its villanelle-like repetitions and rhymes. Other forms of white noise we are familiar with – an untuned radio, the residual galactic hiss of the Big Bang, the sound of the ocean in a shell – act, I think, in the same way. Packed with data, inviting the imagination. Faced with such possibilities, Skinner can seem scarcely able to contain his excitement at the white noise of the world. In his poem “The Scene”, he ponders the constituent elements of a sea- and sky-scape, engages with possible similes, eventually concludes that
‘All the world is drawn to this single point
Moved to convene by enormous forces’
And the result as he stands enclosed in this serenity? If one were to ‘tap’ him today, he would ‘ring like a bell’. The enormous forces referred to are perhaps most movingly arrayed in “Amaryllis & the Iceman (for J)”. Here, dermatological traits visible in the addressed individual reflect a ‘journey (which) began in the Holocene/in Central Siberia’. The long development of our shared genome leaps compassionately into focus.
There’s a tremendous kinetic energy in these poems, evidenced in the wide variety of linguistic stratagems he deploys to express the wonder and joy of things. These range from bright-eyed vocalic transpositions to wholesale melding of poems by different authors. Wallace Stevens would surely have approved his evocation of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) as ‘an ecru curtain/in an epic inert arena,/each inch an ounce in nuance’; while Louis McNeice and Paul Muldoon cohabit strangely in “Snow2”; and in “The Wild Swans at Coole N + 7” a technique of lexical substitution reminiscent of one employed by Christopher Middleton in parts of Pataxanadu leaves WB Yeats amusingly, but somehow still beautifully, transmogrified.
There are many cultural references in this collection, but don’t let that put you off. If you don’t recognise all, or even many, of them (and I certainly didn’t) then I can only testify that you’ll enjoy finding out about, say, ‘hunger stones’ in northern European rivers, the Sedburgh Embroidery, or the work of Agnes Martin or Claude Cahun. It’s all part of the pleasure afforded by this truly remarkable collection.’
— Peter Didsbury, author of A Fire Shared