Books On Books Collection – James Roberts

Last (2018)

Last (2018)
James Roberts
Chapbook, saddle-stitched with staples. Cover: Futura and Goudy Trajan printed on Nettuno 350gsm. Text: Bodoni printed on FSC paper. H210 x W98 mm, 12 pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #36. Acquired from the author/artist, 24 August 2020. Photos: Books On Books Collection. With permission of the author/artist.

Before starting his reading of his poem “The Bear” many years ago, Galway Kinnell commented that someone at another reading had expressed surprise that Kinnell was not an Eskimo, the description of the hunter and the bear being so real, so obviously based on first-hand experience.

A reader/viewer of James Roberts’ exquisite “Last” would be similarly surprised that he is not a time traveller or shape-shifter. While there are sanctuaries, conservation trusts and an effort at “rewilding”, wolves in the wild have been extinct in the UK since the reign of Henry VII. Perhaps Roberts’ close observation of timber wolves in Canada explains what happens in “Last”. Voice, tone, diction, pace and rhythm are in perfect balance with the subject. So much so that the poet seems to inhabit the animal’s breathing, loping and howling.

The poem often sends the reader back to the cover image:

she was already a ghost

a last exhalation/ from the last of her kind/ breathed out of the world

like snowfall/ like snow thawed/ and gone to ground

fragments of a trace

casting shadows

The unusual texture and color of the cover’s ghostly image come from both the choice of paper and artist’s technique:

The wolf image is an illustration created using black ink and salt. The ink is applied inside a sketched outline of the wolf very quickly then the salt is scattered over it while wet. I then scan it and play with the image in Photoshop. I convert to a duotone setting using a deep blue and a much lighter tone. Correspondence with Books On Books, 15 September 2020.

Poem and image come to the very edge of stepping outside the anthropomorphic, anthropocentric circle, but inevitably they are addressed to us in “this forest we’re lost inside”.

Further Reading

Roberts, James. Winged (2020). Review, Caught by the River, 16 August 2020.

Roberts, James. Night River Wood (2018~).

Zoomorphic (online magazine founded and edited by James Roberts).