by Adam Thorpe
From an abandoned rowing boat in Estonia full of wild flowers to a swimming pool in the Congo full of drowned insects, Adam Thorpe’s new collection takes us on a wide-ranging journey through states of gain and loss, alienation and belonging. In the title poem, the poet disturbs a flock of geese by his mere presence, and one goose takes the wrong direction, away from the flock, as a ‘voluntary exile’. A bid for freedom, or a mistake?
These poems explore our chances, record our traces – in the marks on skin, home movies, stone walls, the pressure of our blood, or the clearing of a dying father’s study: ‘foraging backwards’ until something is revealed, however tentative. As always in Thorpe’s work, history’s violence lurks in the margins: in the silent oppression of Roman roads, a polluting pipeline in Africa or the bombing of the Alcala train, he takes the gauge of our wider compulsions, of all that decides things for us. Against this he sets what, through the other meaning of ‘voluntary’, suggests chance’s extempore music: the gleeful play of a sea-otter, the extraordinary gift of a passing gull to his small daughter, or poetry itself.
Adam Thorpe is now celebrated as a novelist, but he began as a poet. Voluntary, his sixth collection, is a timely reminder of the elegance, skill and remarkable range of this most gifted British poet.