This review is taken from Stand 222, 17(2) May - June 2019.

Alice Oswald, Falling Awake (Cape, 2016)
Geoffrey Grigson, Selected Poems, ed. John Greening (Greenwich Exchange, 2017)

After her brilliant, Homeric Memorial (2011) comes Alice Oswald’s, Falling Awake. Here light battles the shadowy natural world and rivers stir with ancient spirits. The idea of falling awake seems to capture both the renewing moments of consciousness (an idea recently explored in Galen Strawson’s Things That Bother Me) and the gravity of the natural world (‘It is the story of the falling rain / to turn into a leaf and fall again’).

Propelled by this notion of entering consciousness, in poems such as ‘Swan’, and ‘Fox’ and ‘Flies’, Oswald deploys her startling imagery. So the wakening flies:

                  drop from their winter quarters in the curtains
      and sizzle as they fall
feeling like old cigarette butts called back to life
blown from the surface of some charred world

She is, of course, a dab hand at the figurative (‘hunched  under the bone lintel of my stare’; ‘the herons used to hang  like lamps here’; ‘lost to my lethargy like a dripping tap’). It is central to her intriguingly strange vision (‘a lime-green light troubles the riverbed  as if the mud was haunted by the wood’). So the ghostly exhalations of ‘Slowed-Down Blackbird’ reveal:

Three people in the snow
getting rid of themselves
             breath by breath

Her rural settings have an edge: mysterious, classical, dangerous. Oswald’s is an uneasy consciousness (reminiscent in that sense ...
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