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Open World

Collected Poems 1960-2000
Edinburgh, Polygon, 2003.

Publisher’s presentation

     Kenneth White has long enjoyed an eminent international reputation and is now increasingly recognised in his own land as one of Scotland’s finest poets and most creative thinkers.
     This book is a landmark. A collection spanning four decades of work includes poems that range from early city ballads marked by the humour and wit of a strong folk tradition to the open sequences of an “Atlantic Atlas”.
     White uses a wide spectrum of forms, in a highly distintive way, from the sharp phenomenology, the lucidity and translucence of the short “diamond poems”, to the polyphony of the longer itinerary-poems that explore landscape and mindscape.
     But what is most striking is the ongoing force. Poetry here reaches out to the highest dimensions of philosophical contemplation and spiritual realisation.

The logic of Lannion Bay

It's in the shape of the headlands
it's in the way the wave
breaks along the shoreline
(with a slow motion shpoof against the rocks)
it's in the variant light
it's in the clear silence of this April morning

up at Yaudet
which was Roman ground
before it yielded
to the syntax of Christianity
you can watch the Léguer
(which recalls the Loire
as well as all other Ligurian waters)
running down to its estuary
in brilliant bluegreen ripples

to walk along the coastal path
from, say, Goaslagorn valley
to the beach of Pors Mabo
is to move between foam and flourish
wondering what whiteness
you'll ever be able to add to those whitenesses

the points one has in mind
are Dourven
(off it, the wreck of the Azalea)
hiding to view the isle of Milo
(to whom Brandan may have paid a friendly visit)
and way far off
lost in the light and spray
the land's end, Roscoff

heather, thorn and pine
gorse and whin
rush down
to curving, sandy beaches
and it's a large arc of land
indicating the Atlantic
lies extended before you

years ago, I remember
when first I came here
sitting with my back to a pine
above Pors Mabo
reading Pyrrho
in Estienne's XVIth century version :
“’Is this work serious
or is it just full of noise ?’
‘I'll think it over.’
‘What's it all about ?’
‘I don't get the drift of your question.’
‘What have you defined ?’
‘I never define.’
‘ What do you do, then ?’
‘ I just keep looking.’”

looking at this place
looking into this place
and at the same time
into the circuits of my mind

in Summer dawns
in golden autumn evenings
in chill winter mists
something like those old taoists
who founded the Academy of Gulls
(a bird and an eye, a bird and an eye :
ideogram for monastery)
an academy without walls
active contemplation : no ideals, no idols
and no over-hasty
over-personal, over-poetical projections

rather long-ranging recognitions
in space and in time

as one who has studied
the grammar of granite
I have walked here
as one who would equate
landscape with mindscape
I have walked here
as one who loves
the ways and the waves of silence
I have walked here

who knows
maybe in years to come
some time after the aftermath
a curious tourist from outer space
will walk along this selfsame path
and be aware of my ghost :
still looking out at the lines
still looking into the light.

At St Matthew’s Point

When Matthew fared out from Galilee
he was making vaguely for the Celtic Sea

over there, at the end of the land
he met old Enoch, with a book in his hand

since he himself had written a book
Matthew was eager to have a look

“it’s all about wind and rock and wave
how they become and how they behave”

“what about God and love and sin
what salvation is there in a fish’s fin ?”

old Enoch, he made no reply
just kept gazing at sea and sky

Matthew thought,  this is something new
I’ll stick around for a year or two.

Black Sea Letter
                                Recalling Ovid

Another Sarmatian winter setting in
goats blethering in what passes for a garden
rain falling when it isn’t poisoned arrows
(how many summers since I smelled a Roman rose !)
eyes bleary, frosty weather on my chin

why bother writing yet another book ?
well, it keeps my mind off stupid folk
the scratching of my stilus on the page
is music to my ears and cools my rage
I know now I’ll be here until I croak

so, here’s a man will listen to the snow
and let the hours come, long and slow
such distance and such silence, all I wish
salt fish is now my favorite dish
I was a famous Roman poet, years ago.

Open World – The Collected Poems 1960-2000 emerges as a testimony to the writer’s prolific output and provides a resting point, a place in which to take stock, assess and reassess the work as a single stream, enabling the full arc of the journey or trajectory to be experienced. […]
Open World comes at a time when White’s work is emerging, massively and luminously, from years of relative obscurity in his homeland. One reason for this obscurity is, perhaps, that his poetry resists assimilation into any of the predominant post-war factions in Scottish poetry or intellectualism ; it is mercifully free of any obvious local inheritance. […] It seems to serve the Earth but has no master.
     Peter Urpeth, Northings, Highlands and Islands Arts Journal

Kenneth White has described his three-fold approach to writing using the image of an arrow : his essays are the feathers, giving direction ; his way-books are the shaft, dynamic exploration of the world ; and his poems are the arrow-head, the point of it all. The publication of Open World marks forty years of productive arrow-head honing.
This wonderful, highly recommended poetry collection is well named, offering a prescription for a wide-open engagement with the world around us. […] White’s poems abound with fresh air, salt air, gulls and gannets, but also many pointers to open-minded thinkers, such as Eckhart, Duns Scotus, Pelagius, Han Shan, Basho, and Schopenhauer. […]  White convincingly encourages us to get out into the wild world, engage with the chaos of it all, love it more, and converse with what is intelligent – from grey heron to Heraclitus, from boulder to Buddha. As he says : “The world is always more open than we think.”
     Padmakara, Dharma Life (England)

Take one large sack full of stale preconceptions ; go down to the seashore on a blustery day ; hurl contents into the salty wind. It would be a good enough starting point from which to approach Open World. […]
Again and again, in this radically energising and long overdue collection, White seeks to strip away the accumulation of tired and tangled poetic, cultural and national debris, and pierce to the heart of perception with the precision of the sudden strike of a heron’s beak. […]
White places poetics at the very heart of understanding and being. He points to the close relationship between philosophy, science and poetics, the way the thinkers turn to the artists and vice versa. Let us be clear here : we’re not talking frou-frou verse. What White is after is the point where the human mind connects with the world itself. […] He insists what is now needed is a set of new co-ordinates, a regrounding, a new map […]. This position is argued with blinding intellectual brilliance in his essays.
At its finest, this is work as exhilarating as a cold wind, cleansing the cramped, crowded corners of the brain. These forty years of poems show a powerfully coherent universe in which themes return like tides.
     Catherine Lockerbie, The Sunday Herald.