An Enclave in Eden by Douglas Lipton

An Enclave In Eden comprises widely published but previously uncollected poems from the last decade of the 20th Century and the first decade of the 21st. The poems are about what goes wrong and what we spoil in an otherwise wonderful world of wonderful people and wonderful relationships. The title poem is located in Cyprus, an island heaven on earth agonisingly divided by its populations. Other poems concern the horrors of 1950s education in Scotland, the extinction of numerous species of bird and the lives of fascinating people. The themes underlying it all are regret that it might have turned out differently – if only – and hope that, still, it just might.

GHOST MAIDEN

A collection of five long poems or poem sequences (with notes) examining the lives of five ‘heroines’ – women at various stages in life. The collection offers the reader a world of substance, puzzles, ideas, challenges and great human warmth. This is a book to be lived with and cherished: a grand companion. Ghost Maiden is designed and type-set by Gopa & Ted 2, Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M., USA.

REBEL BEASTS

A selection of over 40 animal poems with a rebellious spirit, suitable for broad-minded parents, and those with a glint in their eye and of 122 years of age and under. – Those over 122 should seek juvenile guidance. Lead illustrations and cover by Gwen Adair, augmented by other illustrations and designed and type-set by Gopa & Ted 2, Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M., USA.

Reviews

The Stone Sleeping Bag

The collection includes the long satirical poem ‘The Flora and Fauna of an Independent Scotland’ which was described by Scotland on Sunday as ‘a witty and truthful catalogue of the dreich ark of Caledonia’ and by the Scotsman as ‘a tour-de-force…terse, irreverent and riddled with cheeky one-, two-, or three-liners [used] brilliantly to convey, sometimes lewdly, but always colourfully, a peculiar species of Scottish gallows humour’.

‘A Scots bestiary that hoaches with darkly delightful energies….’
Robert Crawford, The Scotsman [of ‘The Flora and Fauna of an Independent Scotland’]

…a powerful portrayal of human suffering and hope, partly inspired by the Ruthwell Cross’s ‘Lay of the Holy Rood’. [of ‘Songs for the Falling Angel]
Alastair Warren, Dumfries & Galloway Standard.

An Enclave in Eden
and
The Aquarium
reviewed by Raymond Friel in Markings 29

Douglas Lipton’s substantial new collection, An Enclave in Eden, opens with both feet very much in Edwin Muir’s ‘other land’ and not in Eden. ‘A Grandchild Sings’ uses the form of a child’s litany to catalogue a sense of world-wrong and impending catastrophe: ‘the beaches are heavy with whales/and the air is bouncing with flies.’ Our troubled covenant with nature is just about intact at the end as ‘Dolly is having a baby’ – indeed, it is what the baby is being born into, a fallen human condition and a ‘sullied’ environment, that is the main subject matter of this skilled and memorable book.       

The suggestion of exposed creatures of the subconscious in the beached whales is returned to in ‘Allan’ and ‘Conger’ and more playfully in ‘The Slow Worms’ where Eden’s serpent , a ‘foot of cool muscle/with skin like magnesium’, keeps disappearing ‘into the sphagnum’ just as we attempt clumsy communication (as it did for D. H.  Lawrence). Those depths are seen as healing as well as frightening in a number of poems, or at least they are depths that must be endured in order to survive the full range of the human condition. Those who have been there and back are archetypal guides, like the man from the funeral parlour in ‘Undertaking’, from the shorter collection, The Aquarium: ‘He has, however, a head for those depths. He has been down there before.’         

Some of the poems in The Aquarium are as moving as any poems I have read on bereavement, as Lipton finds perfectly pitched expression for the grief of losing a new born child after three desperately short weeks of life in an incubator. There is terrible poignancy in the poem ‘Eyes’ as the baby’s voice is laden with the exhaustion of suffering: ‘I want to live, I think/but if this is how life keeps its word/then I am broken already.’

And afterward, as Hemingway said, many are strong in the broken places. For all the pain of the human condition in these books (Lipton is especially unflinching in the poems about childhood, an area where some poets return too easily to Eden) there is a great deal of hard-earned faith in life, as well as engaging warmth and anecdotal humour, which Lipton’s style of carefully phrased and lineated free verse is well suited to. In ‘White Bird’, the final poem of An Enclave in Eden, the poet is a modern day Adam who has seen a rarity, a white bird, and names it ‘Thorn Finch’, both ‘for its domain/in nature’s torture chambers/and for its plumage/like flowers of the sloe.’ Lipton’s imagery is a strength throughout: precise and often eidetic, reminiscent at times of MacCaig, but always weight-bearing, in ways which deepen the semantic possibilities and mystery of the subject.

These collections should firmly establish Lipton’s reputation as a significant voice among contemporary Scottish poets. He is a poet with no designs on the reader: this is a body of work you can trust and admire and be moved by, without at any time feeling that the real subject matter is the poet’s display of erudition (a flaw in too much contemporary poetry). These are the kind of poetry we need: they help us understand who we are, and just how much we are able to endure and enjoy east of Eden.      

Douglas Lipton

Douglas Lipton was born in Glasgow in 1953 and Glasgow remained his home for 25 years or so, the city of his childhood and education. After graduating from the University of Strathclyde, he trained as a teacher and moved to Dumfriesshire in 1977 to take up a first teaching post in Moffat Academy. In the late 1980s he moved to Lockerbie Academy and the early 1990s saw Lipton return to work in Moffat. He is married with two children and now lives in Dumfries, where he works as an Education Support Worker in the local FE college. Having started to write poetry in his teens, Lipton was encouraged to join the influential creative writing evening class run by Glasgow University's Department of Extra-Mural and Adult Education, led by Dr Philip Hobsbaum. This resulted in his first publication in the Department's new magazine, EMU. While a student at Strathclyde, Lipton was successful in its Keith Wright Memorial Poetry Competition and made contact there with creative writing fellows, William McIlvanney and James Aitchison. Douglas Lipton’s first collection, The Stone Sleeping-Bag, was published in 1993 by Mariscat. Since then he has produced a number of chapbook and full collections, published by Markings, Five Bob Ogre (a collaboration with the Albuquerque-based designers, Gopa & Ted 2, Inc.) and Bucharest-based Contemporary Literary Horizon. Photo by Sindy van Zyl.