Following Viktor Shklovsky’s instruction to make everyday objects seem unfamiliar, Richard Skinner’s fourth collection sets out to release ‘the potential of inanimate objects’. A marbled egg, white balloons, unopened boxes, a Greek island, numbers, a yellow yo-yo – nothing in this book is quite what it seems. Unsettling, precise and enigmatic, Invisible Sun confirms Skinner’s reputation as a poet of playful misplacement and misdirection. It is a book about windows, light, clouds, the ‘upside down world’ glimpsed through shadows and mists, and always the invisible sun – bright source of all life but also our daily measure of time and loss – illuminating ‘the distant glitter of other people’s lives’.
Cover image: Martin O'Neill
I The Island of Doubt What are these? Toothpicks or cocktail sticks? They are so fiddly. Why are they so difficult to pick up? What are those sounds on the roof? Birds? Are we near the sea? Who is that in the photograph? No, it’s not me. I never had my hair like that. Why are your feet blue? Oh, they’re shoes? I have no feeling in my feet. If I fall, how will you pick me up? Oh, it’s pathetic, isn’t it? Will someone please answer that phone? Is this medicine? How is your mother? How did she look? Like you do right now. No, I’m not tired. I lay awake all night. Can I get there by candlelight? Yes, and back again. Oh I have been to Ludlow fair and le my necklace God knows where. Are there still cedars in Lebanon? Are there gales in Lundy? Are they drowning the meadows? Am I standing in a stream? I can hear water. I am water gifted. I remember the dropped glass in the stream. The silence was full of birds. Wherever I am, I am what’s missing. Whatever’s missing is where love has gone. Which of these voices is mine? Few. But roses. II The Egg I am holding an egg in my hand. One of life’s joys. So perfect in shape. So simple, yet complex. But, of course, I’m not really talking about an egg. I’m really talking about my mother. The egg is just a portal, a vehicle merely to talk about my mother. Not one of life’s joys. Not simple, but still complex. What’s a poem for? To unlock the secrets of the universe. To release the potential of inanimate objects, like eggs and mothers, which are both part of the same big question, which I can and can’t talk about in a poem. III Rooms I am moving through the rooms. Someone has turned me inside out and now all my bad decisions are on show. This juice is good but the beaker is too big. This machine looks just like the sun. 1... 2... 3... 4... My arms are electronic. Twice I fought with the devil last night. There is ash on my forehead. The view from this room is nice – a garden of reflection. Hills. IV My mother’s things i.m. Diana Malcolm Cartland, née Greig, 1941–2019 Four Dior Addict 754 lipsticks (Vibrant colour! Spectacular shine!). Rolex Depose # Yoke/Sc x1. A tape measure, pins & needles. Three Radley purses (empty). Photos in sepia of her Grandfather ‘Jimmy’ Leggat (a ne’er-do-well from Airdrie), her mother Jan on her wedding day & her father Alec in Captain’s uniform in Cairo. A yellow yo-yo.
after Sampaolo’s ‘Fantasticherie Infantili’ The first nurse, Ida Sessions, carries her white balloon – it is heavy as lead, dead weight. She lives with it, calls it her monkey. The second nurse, Jackie Lemancyzk, is a carer, a dreamer. Her white balloon is going to carry her away, one day. The third nurse, ID Unknown, is more earnest. She tussles with her white balloon, legs akimbo, telling it off for aimless wandering. The land is scrub, the trees low and gnarled, their few leaves a blur. The casa blanca on the horizon hasn’t been lived in for years.
You always hated my boxes. The black belt box with its gold lettering; the Art Nouveau tin of mints from Montreaux; the red marbled box that held a bottle of wine. You never understood why I kept them in my wardrobe. The top cupboard in the kitchen is always empty. ‘Why?’ you asked. Then your mother died and you snapped like elastic. Your breath turned sour and you drank wine all of the day and all of the night. Our grief composes itself in the whole space of the upper body and comparts itself into packets, boxes that only then can I throw away.
We must learn to love the mists, the way they waft through us, making the day larger more autumnal, turning our skins translucent to soften our silhouette so that we no longer block out bits of the sun.
'As with Skinner's other collections, turning these pages is an adventure. He displays the ability to push to the parameters of the recognisable, to make emotional depth out of the fragmented. Breathtaking.'
'These poems are heartbreaking and eerie and beautiful.'
'Absolutely meticulous in their craft and powerfully moving in their effect. Wow.'