“These journals are concerned with ‘what Ruskin advocated as the prime necessity, that of seeing’, and pay ‘intense attention to the particular’. They speak of wasps, of thrips, grass moths, stained glass, nightjars, pub lunches and church monuments, everything deeply informed by etymology, history, psychology and aesthetic theory. The prose is compressed and fierce, and its narrative movement is concerned with mapping the processes of thought, the working out of things. It is founded on careful, close observation of things that typically pass unnoticed through our world.” Helen Macdonald author of ‘H is for Hawk’
‘Not things but seeing things.’ R.F. Langley from the his poem Mariana
‘A sore neck touched by a ruggy shirt collar. Sticky hair. The breaks in sentences longer, this year. The eyes glazed in mid remark. The names vanish, and there is a yawn in the voice. What can string all this together?’
Poet and diarist Roger Francis (R. F.) Langley (1938-2011) was not a prolific poet, seventeen poems in one collection, twenty one in another, a further eight uncollected. That’s it.
Yet in those few poems he created a new music of sense-making, flickering between meticulous observation of the actual and imaginary. ‘I realise that usually I assume that the world is full of thoughts, spaced out in the air, waiting for passing heads to entertain them.’ The poems focus, with compelling precision and delicacy, on the odd and complex particulars of places and insects. Grains of sand. Large hearted, risk-taking, demanding and playful the poems delight in language. They are pre-occupied by sound. Complex knots of philosophy, psychology, Kleinian psychoanalysis, aesthetics and art criticism explored through the minutiae of (often) insect life. A distinct meditation on the mystery of life and human effort. It’s challenging poetry, disruptive, reassuring, abstract, specific. It builds. And gets under your skin. It’s a form of wizardry.
Roger Langley’s poems and diary entries explore perception. They take their bearings from forms as diverse as a Greek vase, Bottom’s dream or a green beetle. Surprise and truth, a comedy, come together. Things are both ordinary and vivid, distinct and universal. Langley’s poems take delight in a playful interplay of word and object. Neither literal nor linear, the poems are accumulations. Laid down over time.
‘The place has accumulated routines, touches on objects, their manipulation, sequences of movement done repeatedly with resultant noises, clisions, clunks, knacks. They are so specific when you remember them that the world seems impossibly full, a miracle of containment. Or does it leak? pg 85 in Journals
You can hear R.F. Langley read HERE. He was posthumously awarded the 2011 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, for To a Nightingale,described by the judges as ‘a masterclass in precision’, it can be read HERE.
R.F. Langley Complete Works Carcanet 978 1 784100 64 3
R.F. Langley Journals Shearman Books ISBN 978 1 905700 00 4