Reading The Hoop

The Hoop  is a slender book as poetry books are. It is divided into two parts” The Hoop” and “Green”. John Burnside  wrote this magnificent collection, his first book, with nature as his guide. His ecological praxis explores a centring that is lost and can only be restored by the Green Man ( a British pre-Christian symbol of healing). For a scholarly exposition of Burnside’s work see this.


The Hoop is a book dripping with nature. Extraordinarily memorable lines: lines you would like to write in your notebook.

“memory strapped to your face/like a diver’s lung’ (9)

face “half-bear, half featureless like the face//of any accident.”(10)

“The soul is a woman…….Or else a dialect”(11)

If marginalia is an indication of writing a book review, my marginalia for this poem was scant. All I could do was admire the lines, want to rewrite them, particularly the lines of ‘The Runner’ and ‘Leaving Nutwood’. When you write and rewrite the lines of a poem you learn a great deal.

Have you tried doing that? Not by way of imitation, but to understand the way the poet uses rhythm or the ten-syllable line effectively even today.

The cover of ‘The Hoop’ shows an oil spill and Burnside approaches the silence by recreating all that is lost:

“autumn may persist/between the books”(46).  What a glorious idea- imagine the dry rose we preserve in notebooks! Nature is a broken thing, dead, a memory,  appearing  “like weeds in herbaceous borders” or settling like “feathers in a kitchen.”

The nostalgia in this book filled with reference to Celtic mythology is immensely easy to relate to. Even though I live in South Asia and do not understand the English landscape, Burnside brings it to life in images so beautiful, you feel like framing his lines so that you can read them as you walk past walls. He makes you want to pause and rediscover your own past, the nature you grew up without or lost, the nature you can reclaim by reading his lines. He inspires you to create your own ode to a nature you have lost.

“Life is a mist/where there is always something else to find/And no one leaves, though all are left behind.”(18)

A book to muse on, a treasure…..

I find British and American poetry to be very different indeed. American poetry is very experimental at times and British poetry still maintains an adherence to form. What do you think?


neelthemuse@ 2013

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5 thoughts on “Reading The Hoop Leave a comment

  1. Fascinating co-incidence here, at a poetry event on Friday night (First Friday Fusion Poets in Wexford) one person read from Burnside. Transatlantic differences in poetry? To some extent I agree with your observation yet at the same time I am aware of groups in the US who meticulously promote the forms of poetry and UK groups who promote the free performance of poetry. In Canada you will find a poetry competition as part of the Atties in honour of Margaret Atwood, the competition looks for entrants to submit a number (10??) of poems each in a recgonised form, sonnet etc?
    Personally I employ/enjoy all forms including free verse and I love the challenge and discipline of conveying thought within set parameters.
    Lovely reading your post, thanks, Kevin

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experience Kevin! You are right…generalizations are hard to make in this globalized world. It must be a matter of preference in the end….

  3. Yes, I think extreme experimentation has a bit more of a following in North America than in Britain or Ireland, though as Kevin says, you can find all styles in all places. However, I get the impression from my internet contacts that really tight traditional forms also have a bit more of a following in North America than in English-speaking Europe, at least among the amateur poets.

    Is this a publisher-published or a self-published book?

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