These remarkable poems are despatches from the edges of experience: from the remote coast of northern Iceland where tree-trunks and dead whales lie beached, to the furthest outposts of the Roman empire in the title poem – ‘From the very limit of the world,/Flavius sends you greetings, my lord.’ The collection is concerned with borders and brinks – the liminal spaces where distinctions blur between outer and inner, known and unknown, between what is familiar and what is other. This is the terrain of the displaced and deracinated but also the shimmering space where all is volatile, mutable, in flux – and it is also, of course, the thin, transparent veil between waking and sleep, between life and death.
Shadowed by mortality, lit by lyrical grace, Words from the Wall includes poems about the killing fields of Agincourt, Flanders, Vietnam and a memorial poem to the victims of the 2015 Bataclan attack where the dead are ‘stations of flame’, and it begins and ends at the boundaries of the Roman territory, at the edge of life: ‘The girls I laughed with once/in the baths’ atrium/are withered and wattle-necked./I love them still…’
Adam Thorpe is a long-sighted poet, at home with the ancient and the modern, and with an extraordinary field of vision. [Words from the Wall is a] first-class collection – which repays rereading.
This is a collection in which time is almost entirely fluid; one in which the past and the present frequently coexist in the space of a few lines. Yet it is also one which mines the deep pathos of the passage of time, and those feeling the effects of its inexorable advance.