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Bark, Xylem Bark, Xylem


Richard Skelton

148 x 210mm

Date of publication: July 2013

Production Details:

230gsm uncoated cover
120gsm uncoated interior
Edition of 100

Bark, Xylem continues Richard Skelton's preoccupation with the weight of words; their materiality and resonance. But for the first time, here, there is evidence of doubt; a subtle questioning of their efficacy. The surety of his earlier work, in which words are like lost jewels, recovered and cherished, is gone. The collection opens with the following lines of muted resignation:

I have saved
these words for you
held them in my mouth
between tooth and tongue
thorn and branch
unvoiced until now
when they fall
but necessary
like leaves

This uncertainty about the facility of language itself is mirrored later in the collection with an acknowledgement of the otherness of nature; an observance of its green language of 'mute articulations' - its 'knot of grammars / which you will never unravel'. A sense of failure therefore pervades Bark, Xylem - one of communication and understanding. This is magnified by the recurrence of a theme first articulated in his book, Landings - that of trespass, and of a natural world which has no need for the 'clamour' of humankind:

by which door
will you make your entrance
how announce
your trespass?

This feeling reaches its apotheosis in a sequence in which the wood, or its nameless agent, addresses the interloper:

your touch transmits nothing
love fear shame are nothing

your quickness is too needlessly spent
your sharp mind blunted by bark, xylem

go back to your clamour
your glass and metal

shrill for us your small and haunted song

Later still, the wood itself, in response to the death of a solitary bird 'rejoins with nothingness' - but this nothingness seems paradoxically more than language - more fitting in its seeming emptiness.

Bark, Xylem is now collected in The Pale Ladder, Richard's selected works, 2009-14.