Lyric Poetry Award - 2009
PARLIAMENT PASSES THE INCLOSING LANDS ACT, 1809
The open-field system would end. Every acre was enumerated
in a way John Clare could not comprehend. Why should footpaths
have fences, streams be made straight, why fell trees, wall a field
and lock it with a gate? No longer could he drink from Eastwell
the bubbling water was penned by scaffolding. No Trespassing
at every turn, posted over scurvy-grass, loosestrife, vetch,
clover, and fern. Clare doffed his cap and wept for his right to
in chicory, thistle, briony and buttercup, he'd always been at
Or coming upon a gypsy camp (fires and tambourines!) he'd
his fleabane, borage, parsley, some beans. Once again the
had lost to the well-to-do, those new proprietors of blackberry,
nettle, toadflax, and meadow rue. Clare questioned his sanity,
a familiar hell, but tramped on to say his farewell to mallow,
oxlip, and pimpernel. He knew this ramble was one of his last;
field, farm, and forest would be enclosed. The open world was
Lucie Brock-Broido on Susan Kinsolving
The speaker here, in this crafted lyric, meshes her own voice into the exquisite and lofted diction of John Clare's world. The poem rises to the pastoral clarity of Clare's own pas- sion for the natural world and for the politics of possession—possession of language as well as of the land. In Clare's lifetime, Parliament enacted hundreds of laws, including the Act of 1809, which "inclosed" the common land, segregating even further the rights of the commoners—("Wood-Men," "Gypsys," and "Stickers" as Clare called the agricultural laborers and peasants)—from the wealthy stewards, the landed gentry (the "terrifying rascals" who made "prisons of the forests").
There were many inclosures in John Clare's life—his literary confinements (the belittling reception of his work in his lifetime)—his physical ones (he was consigned to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum), as well as the inclosures—in the shape of poems—of his small luminous ruminations on the spirit of the natural world.
Kinsolving has fashioned her own finely hewn lyric. Her prosody is subtle, her rhyme schemes graceful and unobtrusive; her empathies are musical and clear. And the details of her lexicon are lovely. In the confines of this brief subtle manifesto, she manages to catalogue (quite musically) more than twenty names of herb and thistle, mallow and oxslip, briony and chicory. Loosestrife, pimpernel, meadow rue.
"Parliament Passes The Inclosing Lands Act, 1809" begins with an open field and closes with an open world. The first "would end." The second would be "past." An exacting augury.