The Wrecking Light

The Wrecking Light

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Robin Robertson’s fourth collection is an intense, moving, bleakly lyrical, and at times shocking book. These poems are written with the authority of classical myth, yet sound utterly contemporary. The poet’s gaze—whether on the natural world or the details of his own life— is unflinching and clear, its utter seriousness leavened by a wry, dry, and disarming humor.

Alongside fine translations from Neruda and Montale and dynamic retellings of stories from Ovid, the poems here pitch the power and wonder of nature against the frailty and failure of the human. This is a book of considerable grandeur and sweep that confirms Robertson as one of the most arresting and powerful poets at work today.

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  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547483337

  • ISBN-10: 0547483333

  • Pages: 112

  • Price: $13.95

  • Publication Date: 08/11/2011

  • Carton Quantity: 48

Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson

ROBIN ROBERTSON is a 30-year veteran food writer, cooking teacher, and chef specializing in vegan and vegetarian cooking.  She is the author of 20 vegetarian or vegan cookbooks, including Vegan Planet and 1,000 Vegan Recipes, and is a regular columnist for VegNews magazine and She operates a vegan-focused website and blog at and lives in Virginia.
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  • reviews

    "Robertson's fourth collection is astonishing in its eclecticism..." Publishers Weekly "There's a drama and majesty here that also teaches us a lesson: That a writer, a poet especially, has the power to make an act of recovery. In "Leaving St. Kilda" Robertson recalls all those unique, old names (and who, by the way, first named them?) before they're lost — before the clouds stream over them, as they do over Mullach Mòr, and they're forgotten. Elsewhere in this somber, beautiful collection, Robertson does the same with smaller, fleeting moments of insight as his speakers confront the passing of time — how, for instance, in "Landfall," the "crates that once held herring,/ freshly dead, now hold distance, nothing but the names/ of the places I came from, years ago." Los Angeles Times

  • excerpts




    I am almost never there, in these

    old photographs: a hand

    or shoulder, out of focus; a figure

    in the background,

    stepping from the frame.

    I see myself, sometimes, in the restless

    blur of a child, that flinch

    in the eye, or the way

    sun leaks its gold into the print;

    or there, in that long white gash

    across the face of the glass

    on the wall behind. That

    smear of light

    the sign of me, leaving.

    Look closely

    at these snapshots, all this

    Kodacolor going to blue, and you’ll

    start to notice. When you finally see me,

    you’ll see me everywhere: floating

    over crocuses, sandcastles,

    fallen leaves, on those

    melting snowmen, their faces

    drawn in coal – among all

    the wedding guests,

    the dinner guests, the birthdayparty

    guests – this smoke

    in the emulsion, the flaw.

    A ghost is there; the ghost gets up to go.



    The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon

    has woken the sealed lake,

    leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,

    just curved plates of air

    re-shaping under the trap-ice,

    straining to give; the groans and rumbles

    like someone shifting heavy tables far below.

    I snick a stone over the long sprung deck

    to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying

    slide of a bottleneck, its

    tremulous ululation to the other shore.

    The rocks are ice-veined; the trees

    swagged with snow.

    Here and there, a sudden frost

    has caught some turbulence in the water

    and made it solid: frozen in its distress

    to a scar, or a skin-graft.

    Everywhere, frost-heave has jacked up boulders

    clear of the surface, and the ice-shove

    has piled great slabs on the lake-edge

    like luggage tumbled from a carousel.

    A racket of jackdaws, the serrated call

    of a falcon as I walk out onto the lake.

    A living lens of ice; you can hear it bending,

    breathing, re-adjusting its weight and light

    as the hidden tons of water

    swell and stretch underneath,

    thickening with cold.

    A low grumble, a lingering vibrato, creaks

    that seem to echo back and forth for hours;

    the lake is talking to itself. A loud

    twang in the ice. Twitterings

    in the railway lines

    from a train about to arrive.

    A pencilled-in silence,

    hollow and provisional.

    And then it comes.

    The detonating crack, like a dropped plank,

    as if the whole lake has snapped in two

    and the world will follow.

    But all that happens

    is a huge release of sound: a boom

    that rolls under the ice for miles,

    some fluked leviathan let loose

    from centuries of sleep, trying to push through,

    shaking the air like sheet metal,

    like a muffled giant drum.

    I hear the lake all night as a distant war.

    In the morning’s brightness

    I brush the snow off with a glove,

    smooth down a porthole in the crust

    and find, somehow, the living green beneath.

    The green leaf looks back, and sees

    a man walking out in this shuddering light

    to the sound of air under the ice,

    out onto the lake, among sun-cups,

    snow penitents: a drowned man, waked

    in this weathering ground.



    for Alasdair Roberts

    I remember the girl

    with the hare-lip

    down by Clachan Bridge,

    cutting up fish

    to see how they worked;

    by morning’s end her nails

    were black red, her hands

    all sequined silver.

    She unpuzzled rabbits

    to a rickle of bones;

    dipped into a dormouse

    for the pip of its heart.

    She’d open everything,

    that girl.

    They say they found

    wax dolls in her wall,

    poppets full of human hair,

    but I’d say they’re wrong.

    What’s true is

    that the blacksmith’s son,

    the simpleton,

    came down here once

    and fathomed her.

    Claimed she licked him

    clean as a whistle.

    I remember the tiny stars

    of her hands around her belly

    as it grew and grew, and how

    after a year, nothing came.

    How she said it was still there,

    inside her, a stone-baby.

    And how I saw her wrists

    bangled with scars

    and those hands flittering

    at her throat,

    to the plectrum of bone

    she’d hung there.

    As to what happened

    to the blacksmith’s boy,

    no one knows

    and I’ll keep my tongue.

    Last thing I heard, the starlings

    had started

    to mimic her crying,

    and she’d found how to fly.



    Sifting sand in the Starsign Hotel

    on 96th and Madison,

    trying not to hear the sirens: the heart’s

    fist, desire’s empty hand.

    The room awash with its terrible light;

    a sky unable to rain. Cradling a glass

    of nothing much at all, it’s all

    come down to this: the electric fan’s

    stop-start – the stalled, half-circle twist

    of draught over the bed; the sea-spill

    of sheets, the head in storm. Look

    at what’s beached here on the night-stand:

    a flipped photograph and a silk scarf, a set

    of keys. These tulips, loosening in a vase.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547483337

  • ISBN-10: 0547483333

  • Pages: 112

  • Price: $13.95

  • Publication Date: 08/11/2011

  • Carton Quantity: 48

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