Robert Gray’s new book continues the style of his previous one, Lineations, by interspersing poems with drawings: there are three panels of six drawings each, spaced throughout the book. It also contains a long meditation on things and thinginess, reality, consciousness (and all stops between) called ‘The Drift of Things’. A hard-working poem, this is one of those pieces that help you orient yourself among the rest of the poems if you are coming to Gray’s work for the first time. As such, it is simultaneously central and peripheral, since the meditative mode it uses is not at all typical of Gray’s writing.
It is, essentially, an attack on hierarchies, especially those hierarchies that dump ordinary things – like buses, the reflection of clouds on water, or foam on the shore – to the bottom of their scales on the grounds that they are mere surface phenomena generated by superior, deeper principles; that they lack consciousness; or that they lack a soul. Gray’s view of the world prizes the ‘candour’ of things, their ‘lack of concern / at being so vulnerable’, and the way they, like everything else, ‘flow into one another’. This sense of flux, though, is not to be construed as a hierarchising deep principle, since ‘even differing differs’. After a look at perception, consciousness and qualities, the poem talks about how we are situated: ‘But the world we’re given is stolen from us; / we are all as bereft as Orpheus. / Thus our hatred of life, because it’s death.’
And, in a memorable image:We in our queues for the banks of Lethe
will recall, attentive as candleflames,
not only faces, but things we have known,
and with intensity that is surprised –
the stance of grass at the foot of palings
one storm-lit afternoon; the night an ocean
among its ice-floes; whatever flung us
into the furthest transcendence we’ve found.