by Tony Curtis and David Lilburn
From: The Lake - Contemporary poetry webzine. November 2013. www.thelakepoetry.co.uk
Pony is a delight, a collaboration between poet Tony Curtis, printmaker and artist David Lilburn, Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara and the ponies themselves. David Lilburn's affectionate portrayals are a perfect fit for Tony Curtis's poems: poignant and funny, they capture the dignity and scruffy glory of the wind-weathered creatures and also the world from which they come. In 'Naming the Ponies' Curtis evokes a widower whose grief is shared with the animals:
She had a way with ponies.
They like him because they loved her.
The last things she gave him
Were her names for each of them.
Though deceivingly simple and conversational in tone, the poems consider subtle and profound questions, taking the pony and its life as a starting-place. In 'Song of the Pony' he says: 'So Pony leaves the singing to the wind./He likes to lie down in a sheltered hollow and listen...' Pony is not romanticised, being a creature of 'hay and shite' (Stables') but he is also sacred and timeless, an evocation of the mist and cloud and bog of the landscape:
That wildness some God forgot to bless,
And so is blest by rain and sun and mist
And is the better for it.
The ponies will tell you the story
Of how this came to be.
('A Winter Sonnet')
They also, in their stillness and sense of being connected with the universe, evoke a Buddhist
awe as in 'The Tao of Grass': 'Ponies pray to the earth./ Morning and evening/They bow their heads/To the grass.'
Tony Curtis is always very good at including colloquial conversation in his poetry to give a vivid feel of the people and their place.
In Pony we eavesdrop on a mother talking to her daughter, a talk at a Pony Show, Festus (in a later poem we discover he has died and left three euro in his will, one for his wife and two for his pony), a pony buyer, Sean Halfpenny and Dan Magee...and in the wider world beyond Ireland, the painter Lucien Freud and the wonderful creation Po-Nee, like Basho a traveller poet but 'unlike Basho, mostly forgotten'!
One of my favourite poems, 'Old Books and Riverbanks', has Dan Magee, his wife, an old woman from 'along the Errislannan Road' her granddaughter Amelia and a small boy reply to the question: what do ponies smell of? They come up with some magical and beautiful answers – 'old churches', 'wild strawberries', 'a crumpled featherbed/abandoned by lovers' – and the speaker himself comes up with 'wool just washed/and hung out in the wind to dry' – but the small boy is more to the point – '...the men's toilet/after the big match:/ Guinness, farts and wet grass'.
This poem sums up everything I love about the book: its grace and humour, delight in physicality interwoven with curiosity about spiritual matters, its beautiful language and haunting artwork. The feel of the book itself is a pleasure, solid yet not unwieldy, the elegant pages, paper and binding equal to the quality of the work within.
Pippa Little was born in East Africa and raised in Scotland. She now lives in Northumberland with her husband, sons and dog. Her first collection , The Spar Box (2006) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. Her latest collection, Overwintering, was published in 2012.
Pony by Tony Curtis and David Lilburn, Occasional Press, Limited edition hardback €65.00 + P&P, paperback €18.00 + P&P.