Many though not all of the poems in Christopher Meredith’s collection, Still, explore the web of meanings in the word ‘still’. They meditate on the paradoxes of stillness and motion, on the capacity of memory and imagination to hold life apparently still and the struggle in art to achieve the power implicit in that to connect with the things of the world in a contemplative intensity.
The distillation of a recurring memory of an old man in the title poem becomes simultaneously an intensification of reality and a denaturing of it. Horseshoe crabs on a nesting beach in New England have reached their biological niche, at an evolutionary standstill for millions of years, but live in blind struggle. A Victorian engraver loses his mind attempting to fix his changing native Cornwall forever in his illustrations. In ‘Standing room’, in entering the still room, the stanza, of a poem, we enter a fixity in which we ourselves, as authors or readers, become transient onlookers. Breughel’s winter paintings invite us both to enter a timelessly frozen world and to understand its liquidity which we both observe and are part of.
In the closing sequence, ‘Still air’, which grew from a collaboration with visual artist Sara Philpott and which focuses tightly on a small landscape in the Usk Valley, the multiple, complex, endlessly moving parts of nature in the stars, geology, the seasons, days, moments, are overlaid and integrated with a clarity of vision that may be achieved in moments of perhaps illusory but necessary stillness in a way that’s ultimately affirmative. Such moments of apparent stillness in these and others of the poems became apertures through which to apprehend the contrasted dynamisms of the world.
Still builds on Meredith’s previous collection, Air Histories, shifting between the personal and impersonal, developing a characteristically wide range of forms, techniques, settings and moods from quirky to serious, while increasingly an underlying coherence of vision emerges. Many of the poems feature Welsh landscapes and settings, in common with much of the author’s previous work.