Dart is unusual in that, although it comprises a sequence
of poems, it is essentially
one long poem - detailing the journey of the
River Dart from its source on
Dartmoor to the sea.
It is also unusual in that it includes the voices of
many people who were interviewed and recorded by Oswald over a two year period. All of
these people's lives are connected in some way with the river, either as
walkers, fishermen, sewage workers, ferrymen, water abstractors,
boat builders etc. These different voices (although possessing a
somewhat similar poetic tone) give a first hand immediacy to the
poem. From the sewage worker, for example, we hear the
admirably graphic: 'I fork the screenings out - a stink-mass of loopaper and whathaveyou, rags cottonbuds, you name it.' Or from the
stonewaller: 'You get upriver stones and downriver stones. Beyond
Totnes bridge and above Longmarsh the stones are horrible grey
chunks, a waste of haulage, but in the estuary they're slatey flat
stones, much darker, maybe it's to do with the river's changes.'
Between the voices are more formal poems, written by the author. These
untitled poems vary in form from free verse to intricate quatrains
and triplets and even feature sections of rhyming couplets. The overwhelming feel
of them, however, is of
something appropriately free flowing -
one might even say stream (no pun intended) of consciousness. In this sense
they are quite reminiscent of Thomas'
Under Milk Wood.
On the down side, however, the poem does have a slightly
'bolted-together' feel about it. (Though perhaps no more so than The Wasteland
which it is obviously influenced by.) Also, I have to say that
when you first open Dart, the 48 pages of closely printed text is somewhat
daunting and will certainly discourage some potential readers -
which is a shame as it is full of some lovely
descriptive work e.g. 'trampling around at first you just make out/the elver
movement of running sunlight/three foot under the road-judder you
hold/and breathe contracted to an eye-quiet world/while an old
dandelion unpicks her shawl.'
If you like River by Ted Hughes you'll almost certainly
like this. Coincidentally the Dart was one of the rivers that
also inspired him.