'Landscape from a Dream' by Elisabeth Bletsoe
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Author:  AineteEkaterini [ Fri Jul 14, 2017 8:41 pm ]
Post subject:  'Landscape from a Dream' by Elisabeth Bletsoe

Some while ago I bought a few books of Dorset poetry among which was a collection by Elisabeth Bletsoe, Landscape from a Dream. Her verse isn't 'immediately accessible', to say the least - I had to read it with a dictionary to hand and even then didn't get everything! - but I find it exciting, anyway. It's very dense and allusive. She's a Dorset native (though has moved about a bit: potted biography here: ... th-Bletsoe) and this collection is very much rooted in the local landscape.

The last poems in the collection are re-imaginings of women from Thomas Hardy novels; in particular, 'Cross-in-Hand' is about Tess Durbeyfield from Tess of the D'Urbervilles and 'Rainbarrows' is in the voice of Eustacia Vye from The Return of the Native. They take these figures, both of whom finish their original narratives dead, essentially because of their conflict with the roles society wants to force upon them, and make them fashioners of their own destiny rather than victim-figures. Both sites, the Cross-in-Hand and the Rainbarrows near Stinsford, are real locations which play a role in the original Hardy narrative. Each poem contains a lot of hidden references ranging from Milton to Yukio Mishima to Hellraiser, and including song lyrics lifted from Bjork and Echo & the Bunnymen. And others ...

Right at the start of 'Cross-in-Hand', Tess says:

No slack-twister I, see
my work-strong arms
; gloves
thick as a warrior's ...

Now, at first I dismissed that as a coincidence, until I read on and found:

Swallows shuttle mandorlas of sound, dreamnets diverting my prayers for a softening, a break in fixation. Waiting defines me. Also a deliberate turning away before the goal is reached. Reinventing myself. Flowering myself inside out. A hedge of floating calices; bride-wort & wound-wort.

This relates to a very specific moment in the Hardy novel where Tess decides not to explain herself to Angel Clare's family and instead turns away on a journey which will take her towards murder and her own death. Bletsoe takes what are clearly Polly's words and turns them into a commentary on this change, and then picks up the 'flowering' motif to begin talking about hedgerow flowers (she's a botanist, among other things).

In 'Rainbarrows', glorious Eustacia seems to be addressing her estranged husband Clym - though the lover she's talking to may be the heathland she hates and is fascinated by. At one point she says

Do what you want
put your hands all over
and in me
o to be
o to be
to be your stunning

mangling the line from 'Hair'; and finally - remembering that in the novel she dies by drowning -

... the
prow of my face cuts
through its breath-cloud
I will name my ship

... which must be an allusion to 'Victory', though Bletsoe makes a feminist point by feminising the form of the name. Eustacia has already called herself 'MERETRIX - INSPIRATRIX' earlier in the poem.

So, here's a poet who's listened to Dry! More than that, she's used elements of the lyrics in a very interesting way, slamming them against another, established narrative - the Hardyan one - to prise it open. It can't be a coincidence, either, that this is a Dorset poet using the words of a Dorset singer to interrogate the work of a Dorset novelist.

Author:  DrDark [ Tue Jul 18, 2017 4:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 'Landscape from a Dream' by Elisabeth Bletsoe

Excellent find. Thanks for posting!

Author:  AineteEkaterini [ Tue Jul 18, 2017 5:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 'Landscape from a Dream' by Elisabeth Bletsoe

I almost fell off my chair when I read it!

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