By Jane Routh
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These poems relate to Sir John Franklin’s 1845 naval expedition to find the ‘North West Passage’ through the Arctic ice. However, rather than a narrative account of that disaster, Jane Routh is drawn to the mystery of what is not known, even unknowable: the ‘white silence’ of ice and of the expedition’s demise – like the silence of a white page an artist might face at the start of new work. With intelligence, wit and touching homage to an episode in history that still haunts us, her poems place Franklin both in his own time and our own.
“In such enterprises the apocryphal has an ineluctable place; but Jane Routh evokes far more than this, delineating and reflecting, in thirteen pages of sustained, accessible and accomplished lyricism, going beyond the fossilized past” …. “The lines move as if there is an exchange between poet and reader – and in reading, we are gathered into this world where close observation, humour and asides draw us to the matter itself.”
J P Loffman, Sabotage Review
Franklin, cryogenically preserved
Wake up, Sir John, and shape yourself.
Wherever they buried you, hacking
the permafrost, break out: it’s soft now.
Your passage is dark and open water.
August is gone, we’re into September
– and still no sea ice has returned.
You can open your eyes – there’s no
dazzle, no bright-reflecting ice:
the landscape’s mud-coloured.
It didn’t take long, what we’ve done.
Look among moss at your feet
– you financed botanic gardens,
you can work out what it means
that young shoots are covered in blackfly.
They say someone heard a robin sing
in Nunavut. On Baffin Island
what they call that landscape now