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Kate Bingham
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
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Infragreen is full of sensuous, imaginative and beautifully accomplished work. It succeeds in leading the consciousness beyond its deadened rounds.’ – The Poetry Review

Perceptive, persuasive and intricately made, the poems of Kate Bingham’s third collection, Infragreen, take the reader on a startling and unfamiliar journey through everyday experiences and phenomena. Her keen eye, reflectiveness and quiet wit endow her subjects with a shimmering freshness.

Set within the four walls of home, on the streets of north London and in the Yorkshire countryside, the poems build out from mundane activities such as taking the pill, traveling a daily bus route and scything thistles. In Bingham’s hands, the familiar sights and hypnotic routines that normally lull the brain into unthinking acquiescence are the starting points for finding new richness in the world around us and our participation in it.

The book contains three sections, each infused by a different season and place, but a spirit of serious play presides throughout. Contemporary versions of Hardy and Frost, a collage cut from old favourite Christmas carols, and a refleshing of some of English poetry’s oldest clichés are part of it, but so too is Bingham’s fascination with pattern: the patterning required by some of poetry’s stricter traditional forms, and pattern as content, a subject in itself.

Those who know Bingham’s earlier work will recognize in this collection her playful, often darkly comic, appreciation of the surreal, which features hearts and hands, feet, and even a pair of shoes with minds and agenda of their own. Elsewhere, a milk-bottle breathes, a pocket of air turns into a winged creature, flies serenade the poet whose mortal scent has drawn them into her room. A ballad at the start of the final section tells the story of an artisan paper-maker whose origami creation is so perfect it comes to life, only to be destroyed again by its maker.

But beneath the gently cynical, almost self-deprecating tone lie Infragreen’s darker themes: a base note of environmental and existential anxiety in which teasing self-deprecation can mutate into a desire for disembodiment, and a ruthless wishing away of consciousness and self.


Review by Martyn Crucefix

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

There is a side to Kate Bingham’s poetry that might be (and has been) described as steady, calmly observed, dispassionate, elegant and formally accomplished. But I also see another writer – one largely unacknowledged in Seren’s blurb to Infragreen and the many critical comments arrayed in her praise – for whom the world is endlessly atilt, above lethal undertows, aching distances, the formal wizardry in large part a white-knuckled hanging on in fear of letting go. I don’t mean the latter in any silly psycho-babble way but in relation to that moment when the black gulfs open up under all we thought we knew.

The more conventional part of this new book is the second section which seems to be visiting a landscape, a house and wooded countryside where the poet perhaps spent time in her youth. We are given reflections on early love, motherhood, the daughter becoming a mother herself, the English countryside, cattle, blackberrying. Most of these poems are obviously viewed through the perspective-glass of time past and time present and this somewhat disrupts Bingham’s more characteristic way of seeing things which is from within and without. One really marvelous poem here assumes the stance of the innocent younger girl encountering an apparently friendly farmer who keeps a bunch of string in his pocket to entertain the child while also using it to keep “his trousers up” (‘String’). It’s the humming, obsessive, ground-base of end-rhyming (string, string, twine, string, mine, strings, string, hem, string, hen, string, him) that evokes the worrying undertow of adult threat without anything explicit being said at all: “He didn’t need the string. / I tugged his arm and trotted after him”.

It’s the clash of viewpoints or perspectives – using that unsuspecting, unreliable narrative voice – that makes this gem of a poem so disturbing to read. And it is the manipulation of viewpoints that yields such rich dividends elsewhere in Infragreen. On a domestic level this is played out in ‘Next Door’ where the tone is one of some surprise that the neighbours “experience life to the full”, the latter word forming on this occasion the repeating ground-base rhyme that imports irony into the seeming admiration for the “bang and slam” of their lives. But the collection is carefully opened with two brief, curiously abstract treatments of perspective. ‘Ultragreen’ takes the ‘above and beyond’ implication of the prefix to have the narrator observe a water drop “at the end of the garden”. Through a disturbing synaesthetic travelling, the drop instantaneously appears “in my brain”, indeed takes up the narrator’s perspective precisely as it “looks out / and sees what I have seen”. What was without is now within and something “like photosynthesis begins”. As a way of announcing this poet’s basic strategies and as a metaphor for (artistic) generative fecundity this is brilliant.

This is followed by the six cryptic lines of ‘Infragreen’ itself. I take Ultra to suggest ‘out there’ so Infra is more ‘within’ and here suggests a more harmonious coincidence of perception in which “the sun and I see eye to eye”. However, this frail connection seems always in danger of being broken, “half letting go of itself / half hanging on” and though Bingham does write occasionally of the fertile experience of such connectedness (see below) she more often writes in the throes of its breakdown, of distance and the accompanying sense of loss of control. So the archetypal ‘feel-good’ season of ‘Spring’ seems to be remotely occurring rather than directly experienced, the sun (again) “rising above its various nationalities / and making things grow”. The romantic gift of flowers is undercut in a meditation on tulip harvesting in Holland and the deliberate wrenching cliché of “the international language of flowers”. Even the self, viewed from deep within, has to be recognized through experience and even then not reliably: “it is her face my face projects / and for a moment I look strange” (‘Look’).

Seamus Heaney has a number of car poems in which the vehicle seems to be working benignly as a mode of travelling into wider experience (my favourite is ‘Postscript’ from The Spirit Level (1996): “As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways / And catch the heart off guard and blow it open”). For Bingham, in contrast, the narrator’s car is a place “I have to return to”, a place of (admittedly rather dull) security, “somewhere to look from” (‘Silt’). So much so that there are occasions, even when “London at night is a blaze of company”, when sitting alone in a stationery car, “seat belt on / and the engine running”, seems the best thing to do, or even the most that can be done. This is from ‘Between’, another of Bingham’s best poems in this collection, opening in the familiar only to end in another dizzying, atomised gulf.

The familiar surroundings, the container of the car, perhaps works in the way that Bingham’s use of rhyme can be seen to work, as providing a firm base from which the poem gazes outwards into the truly disturbing (Tony Harrison has said something similar about his use of metre and rhyme; it also makes me think of Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘The Art of Losing’). So the lulling rhymes of ‘On Highgate Hill’ make the stabbing on a London bus more shocking than a more informal, realist treatment. The hypnotic, mono-rhymes of ‘At Night’ (night, white, light, sight, tight, right, bright and so on) evoke a drowsy, sleepiness of thought that ventures closer and closer to the edge. On this occasion, the vision is a brighter one of something (like Edward Thomas, Bingham enjoys the nonspecific of such a word), something “mine and right / and unconditional”.

The unconditional is an escape from the binaries of perspective. It is a fleeting moment – impossible really to be written about because impossible to be disciplined into language – when self and other, those distinctions we lean on and then find ourselves manacled to, vanish. Bingham approaches such moments cautiously, “my hairs on end, my senses trespassing”, occasionally there are successes: [I] look back from where I am at where I stood / and see the wood for the trees, the trees for the wood” (‘The Wood’). On other occasions the plenitude is more overwhelming like the fisherman faced with an overflowing fish farm: “tongue-torn, foul-hooked, half tame / when there was nothing more to take more came” (‘Cull’).

But there are also a few untitled experimental pieces scattered through Infragreen that seem to be approaching this state of the unconditional in a lower-case, unpunctuated tentativeness. On page 24, a couple wake into a sleepy uncertainty in which bird song and growing buds seem one, as do thoughts and birds on a branch, the human and the natural, “one listening one listening to itself”. The final poem too, page 63, starts by undermining language (“call it what you like”) and proceeds to a car crossing Exmoor, an unaccountable stopping, the driver leaping out into a gale force wind, a slammed door offering a brief framing device, the observing voice trying to “make what I can” of it all, though within and without are bewilderingly blurred, “the other side of the force in the fence // of the foreground”.

Kate Bingham’s skill in tacking the vessel of form against the breeze of colloquial language is certainly to be marveled at. There is great pleasure to be had from the rightness of her positioning of words on the page. But I also admire her willingness to gaze past what Seren’s blurb refers to as “necessarily” her subjects, “the familiar, the seen again, and the returned to”, to glimpse something far more terrifying and in this she reminds me less of Edward Thomas, less of Elizabeth Bishop, more of Robert Frost.

Review by Gregory Leadbetter, Poetry Review

Thursday, October 1, 2015


In contrast to McAuliffe, the aural texture of Kate Bingham’s third collection Infragreen, is powered by the patterns of its ‘eloping’ vowels – as here, in a speculative description of

something I want to call our soul,
alive and fluttering within
as it gets ready to unfold
the precarious expanding mesh
of its first full breath into the wings
you’d hope for of a made-up thing,
trembling, ticklish and compressed
as love should be, losing its foothold.
(‘Between Our Feet’)

The cumulative musical effect is apt for a collection that brings day-light and dream-light, visible and invisible, into intimate communion. As its title suggests, Infragreen aims to carry human vision beyond its habituated range.
Bingham’s subtlety is never vague. She most often houses her “made-up things” in the discipline of rhyme, for which she shows her sure feel throughout. A delight in formal effects characterises the book as a whole, with nods to past masters in Hardy and Frost (and a successful cento thrown in to boot). The sonnet is served well, and the villanelle is prominent here, too: a clever pairing of the form in ‘Arrangements’ is used to serio-comic effect, as each poem undermines the other in coming to terms with paradox and complexity: “for things to stay the same they have to change” says the one; “For things to change they have to stay the same” answers the other. ‘The World at One’ loosens the villanelle a little more, in ways that show Bingham’s skill and
confidence in the medium – and as it does, develops a quiet politics of being in response to the horrors and the pressures of the global news media:

bring me pencil, paper, chewing gum
and I will stay at home and do no harm,
imagining myself a world for one
where what I did was what I should have done.

That implicit concern with the place of the writer in the world – at once querying and justifying the self-justifying ways of the writing life – is complemented elsewhere by a concern with the faith of the artist in her own work. The haunting ballad ‘By the River Lau’ imagines a lone artisan who finally makes “her masterpiece”, an origami man. He seems to come alive in her hand, “the glimmer of a thought behind / his glossy onion eyes”, but in “the silkscreen dawn” of the morning after, “a poor, imperfect, woman-made / man shape was all she saw” and – her faith in what he seemed to be gone – she unfolds and thus kills him: “a tiny shattered skeleton / revealed what she had done”, and her mind itself unravels. It’s an admonitory myth.
Human life and its habitats figure in this collection as a shared garden – not in any twee sense, but as something we transform by our activity, and which transforms us by its own. The opening poem, ‘Ultragreen’, aligns the poet to the life within and beyond herself, through the lens of a drop of water, and “Something like photosynthesis begins”. The mind is left, like the water drop “in the crux of a leaf”, “half letting go of itself / half hanging on” (‘Infragreen’). Infragreen questions as well as raids the inarticulate, alert to

the possibility that somewhere
in the processes of deep non-verbal reasoning

some filament might signal back
and the silence between us
end in words.

Nothing is taken for granted in the intellectual universe of these poems: instead they draw strength from going on creating in the face of mystery.
Bingham is faithful to the fugitive spectrum of perception: “Only a state of mind or trick of light, / I tell myself, but no less felt for that” (‘Tapetum Lucidum’). In her hands, “A feeling wonders what it might become” (‘Rosa Wedding Day’) – an instinctive affirmation of William James’s sense that “the recesses of feeling, the darker, blinder strata of character, is the only place in the world in which we catch real fact in the making”. This gives the collection its metaphysical tact – a rare quality: though perhaps the day is coming when it will be more fully acknowledged as fundamental to the distinctive authority of poetry.
Infragreen is full of sensuous, imaginative and beautifully accomplished work. It succeeds in leading the consciousness beyond its deadened rounds: “why else do you think I’d choose to go // at twilight in the rain if not to listen/ to my hairs on end, my senses trespassing?” (‘The Wood’).



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