The Malvern Aviator

In language that is both precise and strange, Skinner’s poems tip certainties on their heads, making familiar objects in the world unfamiliar: a mountain is not what it seems, a skull contains a universe. Alongside this process of ‘making-strange’ lies a deep connection with sound, colour, temperature and scent that brings the poems fully to life. Questions of faith run through many of these poems, with subjects ranging from the Lollards and Buddhist Bardos to Saint Fabiola. There are personal poems too: a summer affair, family narratives about his grandmother’s difficult marriage and his mother’s time abroad as a young au pair. These poems engage with form – the cento, the cinquain, the unrhymed sonnet, cut-ups and free verse – in enigmatic, other-worldy ways that constantly surprise and please.

Cover image: Martin O'Neill

Sample Poems

Fabiola

for John Berger


A crimson veil and a paling face,
a figure straight out of a Book of Hours.
Moments of goodness are time machines
and beautiful eyes are telescopes to the unseen.
To see and the want to know are the same
– memory is just another way of knowing –
but I cannot recognise these three faces,
lowered, louvered and heavily modified.
Depth cannot be found in a single image,
but placed together, they move from space to time.
I have to look at many to see just one
and forever is space-bound, not found in time.
We only grasp things juxtaposed in clusters,
a mess of spilled materials, a cosmos.
A fuller grasp comes when all is brought to rest,
no longer fixed to the flux or the durée.
By setting the replica over the original,
what is lost is not time but the aura.
In the eyes of the creator, viewed en masse,
the true face is the stereoscopic view.

Found

There is a white sunrise.
We are dreaming of a shape within a blur
and the days are not full enough.
They come, they wake us,
and there I found myself more truly and more strange

Black Water Side

Your mind is a house full of people running through rooms
looking for keys. Doors slam, but far away,
so softly you’re not even sure you heard it. Turn
the door knob and step into the freezing landscape.
Notice the weeping willow bending over the beck.
The black water now runs red.
Your life is here, made up of minutes, hours, naps,
errands, routine. The little things have to be enough.
The valley is reduced to the side of a fell and cloud coming in.
The sheep are cragfast, the deer keep falling down.
You’ve nowhere else to go and you’re sure of it now –
this is the wrong mountain.

Eclipse, Salisbury Plain, 1903

Standing by the Scots pine,
looking back at the house,
he knows he’s been here before –
a slight flutter in his heart,
a panic in his throat,
when he sees the frosted windows
blind with unknowing cloud
looking at him indifferently.
His hands do their tremorous thing
as he winds up the contraption
and sets it off to the air.
All measures and weights calculated,
it is really his moonsick heart
that lifts and drifts to other skies.

Reviews

'In Richard Skinner's supple and elegant poems, the known and unknown rise and fall like fish in a deep pool, leaving hairline cracks and moonsick hearts. A beautiful collection, full of mysterious clarity.'

Catherine Ayres

'Richard Skinner’s The Malvern Aviator carries a freight of deep poetic intelligence tempered with playfulness, a clear eye, and an entirely welcome desire to explore its subjects without eviscerating them. The language is precise and clear, opening onto an understated sensory realm that looks to feel the edges of the world.'

George Szirtes