Thomas A. Clark’s Yellow & Blue, placing two distinct primary colours side by side, might, by its title, suggest the need to synthesise and equate is the most pronounced focus of his newest collection. The poems themselves are unpunctuated, and versed in lower-case small blocks, without titles, in order, it seems, to play with this aroused idea of comparison. Clark uses observant, conceptually-charged language that responds to both present and past moments, in order to encourage this consideration of hierarchy in a diurnal context:

the mountain pansy
viola lutea
rooted in uncertainty
is blue and yellow

The result is lively, attentive, visually-compact poems that seem to offer the natural world in components as much as they strive to find wholeness by amalgamating and fusing those separates:

in the light-filled wood
a wall a lintel some stairs
as if the pairings of a life
were preserved in honey jars

The fact ‘light’ permeates this poem seems no coincidence considering the references to darks, outlines and depth that crop up elsewhere: ‘someone is there/ in the shadows/ looking out’. Due in part to the pragmatic tone throughout, the sightings of the poems are vast, exaggerated by the fact much is made of them, as the speaker reacts to occasions in the natural landscape and then uses sight and those reactions as a way of demolishing the order of the outside world:

to remember it
is to visit it
again in thought

The poems systematically track how the human process of response is activated and led by laws of authority that dominate the way an individual is influenced by their external environment:

to go on and on
to have more of the same
is the one desire
of the solitary walker

The purpose of negotiation, seen here in the figure of the ‘walker’, is to proclaim the value of de-valuing, prioritising, instead, the rules of symmetry, where all parts are equal and mutual. As hierarchies are challenged and scratched, items and objects are revealed in their purest, simple forms:

the scent of meadowsweet
a memory of the scent
of meadowsweet

The speaker here asks how memories are like or unalike the actual, but the individuality of each counterpart, which the poems so securely find, is proven enough to advocate an equivalence between numerous segments or matter that destroys the need for grading and contrast. Yet Clark settles for a less conservative, and yet administratively risky, format. These poems are characterised by their lack of power-attributions, outlook, and use of seeing everything in balance.

Yet as much as these poems triumph and revel in their analogous findings, the speaker, moreover, synthesises these items with their initial response to them, in order to gain an understanding of public place that has in it the liability to be modified according to private needs:

shades of green
lead further in
to a green that glows
then paths of green
close up again
behind one who passes

Colour is one way of unifying what is seen in the landscape with what is seen in the mind, and is often used with references to light, picked up on, again, here, in the effulgent present verb ‘glows’. The fluid sound patterns between ‘lightly’ and ‘internally’ serve to liken the controlled state of ‘one who passes’ to the intrinsic qualities of the ‘green’, using the physical action of the figure to create a working consciousness for the ‘green’. Clark suggests all things are equally as independent and capable of thinking and acting for themselves, as, likewise, shades, tones and primary counterparts, much compared and contrasted amongst themselves, glorify and cement a vision that sees everything as equal:

the green by the blue
the blue by the green
kept their values
as keenly as if
the green for the blue
the blue for the green

Yet, just as here one colour is readily able to stand for another, there are also differences between them. The state of standing in for being something else poses difficulties for understanding identity and essence. This state of interchange, where similarities meet with difference in an aroused state of comparison, implies the point is not to be measured or judged in accordance with what else is being stated, but to simply be, and that any value to be recognised lies in the simplicity of fully committing to a valued state.

The poems sometimes aim at no more than an unachieved, utopic vision: ‘forms half remembered/ drift and snag’, which suggests that a change in state or identity does not necessarily amount to an increase or decrease in how the poems value them. Rather than judge yourself, or external stimuli, against how you or it compare, it is better, this language suggests, to admit and commit to a ruling flux of interchange, where exchanges and transactions are enough to convince our consciousness that our inner self is as capable of stimulating, sustaining and controlling itself as anything outside or beyond it.

Almost as a tribute to the harmony they both seek and proclaim, at intervals, several of the poems seem to offer themselves as created states of interdependence, which the speaker themselves tries to duplicate and re-enact:

one in constant
may be a tree
a bird a stone
in the light
of recognition

Clark’s poems play not only with the expanse and fluctuation of the natural world, but with the gathering, amassing and structuring of the language used to make sense of that world. He allows not only for things within the poems to synthesise, but for the poems themselves to find harmony, balance and productive mirroring in the external worlds they so avidly portray. Yet Yellow & Blue, in a manner that subtly opposes this idea of equilibrium, constantly uses the indeterminate condition ‘if’ to imagine and configure a state of adopted change:

flowering gorse bush
leaning over
towards the sea
as if its growth
were towards completion

Yet the poems, despite vague, sporadic attempts to measure, as seen in this simile, aspire nevertheless to annul this state of judgement, hoping, as one poem proclaims, to remove that trope of comparison: ‘to move without obstruction/ to see far’.
Charlotte Rowland

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