REVIEWS FOR BEYOND STILLNESS
The High Window, February 2023
"To describe Mark Roper as a nature poet alone would be reductive but then he does write nature poems that are very fine indeed. A successor of the likes of John Clare and Thomas Hardy, but without the inherent sadness and pessimism of the latter, Roper is renowned for producing work that is hallmarked by impeccable precision and insight, and for his observations of, to quote C. Day Lewis, “the small, the scorching / ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.” Roper’s oeuvre is populated with moments of reflection on those everyday encounters that others are too busy or out of touch to notice."
The Irish Times, 29th October, 2022
Mark Roper’s trademark spare, spiritual response to the natural world is intensified in Beyond Stillness (Dedalus Press, E12.50), as a personal health crisis mirrors the environmental crisis. ‘Where Does It Hurt’ asks the earth for forgiveness:
Open, Beetle, your lovely back,
try to show us what we lack.
Grass, prepare your sharpest blade,
they say it’s time our debts were paid.
Third planet from the sun,
what have we done, what have we done.
Roper’s vicar father, always central to his poetry, appears in ‘Gulf’ almost as a double, also anxious about forgiveness – when Dives pleads with Lazarus “that he may dip the tip of his finger”, in Luke’s Gospel:
You told me how hard you found it
to preach on this text – the gulf
you had to gloss between
damnation and forgiveness.
I remember your hesitation, that moment
you shared it with me. I remember
your shoes, unpolished, human,
forlorn beneath your cassock.
I remember those later, astonished words –
I fell down. I’ve never done that before.
‘Drive’ details a stunning redemption, its short stanzas mimicking quick intakes of breath:
The flowers ran
the full four hours
of that drive,
a stream of gold
Such a long winter
it had been and now
in both my eyes
pieces of membrane
stars and circles
across my gaze
which I ‘would
learn to live with.’
Into those eyes
poured and poured –
the home my sight
could still provide.
Roper has an unerring sense of the gulfs between the miracle and damnation, its beginning and its end:
As I dragged the dead hare
from the road, a crack of bone.
Those marvellous feet, mishandled.
Its shadow waits on the moon
but the hare is nailed to earth. (‘The Hare’)
REVIEWS FOR BINDWEED
Poetry Ireland 123, December 2017
Part of the second half of the book deals with the long aftermath of a serious mountainside accident. Images of falling and of being buoyed up again meld with recollected moments from being the recipient of care, and in poems like ‘Gravity’ this transcends recollection and moves towards a controlled elegiac or spiritual epiphany:
When I fell I knew
this was not a fall, it was you
taking hold of me,
speeding me, rolling me over,
I felt your grab
Rueful self-awareness permeates this section, and the emotional honesty of the unadorned and exacting stanzas creates a contract of trust with the reader, who is then trained to be ready for insights captured and generated by subsequent pieces, which again emerge from close observation of the natural world. From ‘Celandine’, which is ‘set in a surrender of leaves’, to the ‘Bee Orchids’, Roper’s communing spirit uses luminously memorable turns of phrase to find a kind of stay against a darkness quite present to the speaker. As he says of the orchids:
So grave and so silly.
They stared me down.
RTE Website, 12.12.2017
Nature sits easy in the poet's sphere of influence in Mark Roper's impressive new collection of poems, Bindweed, which is a profoundly humane and often moving work. The poems in the second section of the book are written after an accident of some kind, which seems to have occurred out in the open and there is the sense of recuperation affording tentative new insight. It is an ill wind that does not blow some good, and much more than 'some good' is in evidence in poems like 'Gravity' and 'Shadows (2)'. 'The Garden', a short dialogue in verse with a dear one who has passed, is particularly moving. Bindweed is a very fine collection, surely one of the best poetry collections published this year.
The Irish Times, 13/1/2018
In the opening poem of Mark Roper’s collection Bindweed, the poet is imagining the conversation carried on by a flock of longtailed tits: “six or seven/or eight or nine or ten of them talking/all at once listen to me no you listen to me/no you listen no you a carry-on hidden/in trees a speaking of leaves is it . . . /”. The poem serves as a reminder that in the general clamour of poetic voices competing for an ever-diminishing share of what is now called – horrifyingly – the attention economy, Roper’s voice remains level, calmly attentive, concerned less with its own formal qualities than with the things of this world to which it ascribes an absolute value. These include birds, animals, landscapes, and objects symbolising the points at which human culture and the ecosphere intersect. “We keep going, though we are/all in some way wounded” one poem states; and this sense of vulnerability, both of the ecosystem and of the human creature – and of the fragile interdependence of both – pervades the collection. Several poems in the second half of the book describe a serious fall the poet had while walking in the mountains, but what is striking is the equanimity with which this experience is delineated.
Southword, January 2018
The slightly shorter second half of Bindweed deals with a serious accident that befell Roper in the mountains and charts his reactions and recovery with remarkable honesty and lack of self-pity. In fact, the first poems are almost detached, implying a near-death experience:
through the gulf I looked
down on towards me
looking down. ('Stretchers')
It is this ability to stand outside himself that makes Roper such a good observer. As he waits to be rescued in ‘After the Fall’ he looks and listens to the birds, the sound of a stream and ends up “almost resenting / the helicopter,/ the rescue it
brought”. Once more the poet is caught between two worlds, the human world and the world of nature which chatters on regardless. Bindweed is another fine collection from a poet who is alert both to the natural world and his own fragile existence within the world in general. As the collection progresses it takes on an elegiac tone with the loss of his father spanning several poems. There is a poem for a favourite cat which is given human qualities when he is buried “in his favourite cardigan” and the story of a last crossing of the Rinnashark Harbour in County Waterford. Such encounters place the poet in his natural state, remembering and ultimately:
the strange meanings
when you’re alone. ('Bee Orchids')
Dublin Review Of Books, July 2018
Particularly appealing to me is his poem 'Carving', where the poet’s intricate detailing of a European Bison sculpted from a mammoth tusk some twenty-two thousand years old, on display in the British Museum, concludes with the powerful lines: 'We keep going, though we are / all in some way wounded.'
And it is these two lines, it seems to me, which are the emotional core of Bindweed – a book of poems which is persistent in laying bare both the pain and happiness of being alive, while always looking to the forces of the natural world for guidance – and not just in Ireland. 'Water and Stone' is an intriguing sequence based on a trip to Namibia, and the poem 'Andean Cocks of the Rock' is inspired by a challenging walk down into a ravine in Ecuador, while 'Never to Run Out' details an arduous trek on Vancouver Island and the poet’s unrelenting desire for the path to continue on, 'for distance which when reached / would open to become again distance'.
The North, January 2019
On Vancouver Isdland, in 'Never To Run Out', light itself is central to the imagery. The "wood/and the stone, the roots locked onto rock" are all vehicles for the journey of "ancient dust-stained light", which illuminates "the path running forward,/the way between the trees". The poet searches for roots of the world, excavating experiences of nature so ancient that it is difficult for language to travel there. This searching brings us to the earth, to 'Doubtless', where the poet, in the tradition of poets, is digging in the mud, "hands joyous". We go beyond imagery as we reach what is perhaps the central meditation of the collection - that poetry strives to bring us to a place beyond the scope of language. As Roper says:
"Sometimes a thing is what it is,
not an excuse for another thing.
And if I felt I was getting close
to somewhere else, I knew
it was not a place to be reached."