Reviews

The School of Night by Anne Rouse

John Sears

Each poem is located within a wider structure that organises the collection as a whole, which offers a nocturnal sequence of instruction stretching from dusk till dawn, a poetic long night's journey into day.


The School of Night

Publisher: Bloodaxe Books
Length: 63
Price: £7.95
Author: Anne Rouse
UK publication date: 2004-11
Amazon
I have been one acquainted with the night...
� Robert Frost

Anne Rouse's poems belong to the school of modern verse that relies on careful, detailed observation of reality as it presents itself to the poet. The poem is a record of that reality, rendered in words that most appropriately convey impressions and express the poet's responses. At its most extreme, this approaches the experiments of concrete verse, like the formal innovation of 'Starlings', a poem read upwards in a curve across the page, imitating the sweep of a flock of starlings. Each poem, each sequence of observations and comments, is located, in The School of Night, within a wider structure that organises the collection as a whole, which offers a nocturnal sequence of instruction stretching from dusk till dawn, a poetic long night's journey into day.

Rouse's style is condensed, abbreviated, circumstantial -- openings are abrupt, swiftly precipitating the reader into the poem. 'A God at the Audition' begins with "A god attended the audition", no explanation, no rhyme or reason to the apparently surreal inaugural event, until the poem itself becomes a kind of curtailed explanation for itself, its own rhyme and reason an elaboration of its own conceit (man makes God in his own image; divinity is revealed as a performance, like any other identity). Ezra Pound's 'The Return' nestles beside Judith Butler, both are domesticated, and the poem, its unobtrusive rhymes and formal coherence gently working on us, proceeds on its odd, disconcerting way.

Rouse, an American by birth, studied in London, and writes poems largely situated in that most poetically familiar of 'unfamiliar' territories, the city of London at night. While this tendency is occasionally bucked, for example in the oddball pastoral of poems like 'Cattle Among Trees' or the prehistoric fantasy of 'Tyrannosaurus', its city streets that we're led back to and then through, the terrain of modern poets since James Thompson and Jules Laforgue (W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz recently claimed to walk the entire length of the city in a night). If T.S. Eliot's 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' offers a template for this brand of modernism, Rouse adapts it to her own purposes, and The School of Night, her third collection, extends and particularises the metaphor of alienated poet as nightwalker.

Eliot lurks in the background at several points (as he does with much contemporary writing). 'Curtains', with its "great aunts" and "their little ways", evokes the domestic scenes of Eliot's 'A Cooking Egg' or 'Portrait of a Lady', but adds a sprinkling of gothic menace in "That sound in the eaves of the loft, too - / a child imitating a ghost, steadily cooing / or playing a recorder, badly." In 'Outcome', "The hurried voice as beating rain, / the driven breath as stubbed-out-on-the-floor" evokes "the burnt-out ends of smoky days" of 'Preludes'.

Rouse takes up and transforms these allusions, offering a postmodern take on modernist convention. Her imagery ultimately belongs to her: in 'Fort DeWitt' we enter "Safeway's opulent chill", a wonderful phrase redolent of the air-conditioned consumerist aisle of plenty; 'Aura' opens in another marketplace at dawn, when "A winter sun is fingering the stalls, / slowly lightening, like milk in tea" before "a woman / rigid as a crane, and elder Fury / in descent, who angles fiercely for / a bargain lime-green double-pack". These are images of the urban present, lamenting the reduction of the world to market forces ("that long violence", the poem calls it), the limiting of human desires. This reinvests images of modern alienation and dehumanisation with pertinent political force and adds weight to Rouse's observations.

'The Awkward Guest', the longest poem here, offers a kind of condensed summary of Rouse's style and themes. The poem, oddly narrative, meditates on identity and history, reading the self off against its actions, always second-hand (at its heart is "the Heart Fund charity shop"), derivative, coded by generic conventions made manifest as competing voices: "The ghost of the Gothic peered in � A relic of the Real snorted...". The self becomes an awkward guest within the house of itself, a Jamesian house of fiction haunted, like Thornfield Hall, by the apparent ghosts of previous selves: "A single self, a dark and distant girl, / rippled deep, as if to disappear...".
The final section presents a clearer summary of the poem's philosophy of identity:

The lived Ibeing above all, diffuse,
poised in the door of all its open rooms,
a rebus; an Egyptian eye, vase water -
to say I vow, is like kneading mist,
but there is another, tangible verb.

The "other, tangible verb" -- "I am", perhaps? -- is, nevertheless, resisted, as if the poem cannot bring itself to assert its own singular existence.

Rouse is sometimes a demanding poet, requiring from the reader the kind of concentration she's clearly invested in the poems. Brevity is a virtue here, each poem a snapshot in words, or a sequence of images gesturing outwards, away from the contingent and specific into the general. 'Nocturne' (again that echo of Eliot) starts with another description of those "Great aunts in wicker chairs", familiar symbols of a world of memory ("a pink 50s kitchen"), lost; the poem departs the drawing room of the past and moves into the streets of the present, the alleys, the sky, the universe:

The tree in the alley dangles its claws
over the green, and ghostly blooms.
The sky, night-streaked and opaque,
Turns outward to the ignorant distances.

To move so swiftly and with such assurance (that 'ghostly' both adverbial and adjective, the tree blooming over the blooms beneath it, large and small simultaneously rendered) from the trivial to the grand, and to place each so carefully in relation to the other, requires poetic skill. There are plenty of such moments in The School of Night.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.