‘Iggleheim’s Ark’, by David Kinloch

A chapbook is the poetic equivalent of a selection box – a small taster of various styles and forms that may convince a reader to seek out the writer’s full-length collections in future or explore their broader poetic output. Iggleheim’s Ark will surely be one such chapbook to drive new readers to David Kinloch’s other works, with which this small collection of ekphrastic poetry shares its lyricism and technical virtuosity.

Iggleheim’s Ark responds throughout to specific artworks, both real and imagined, and gestures through its language and imagery to artistic workmanship, the fluidity of brushstrokes. The opening lines of the first poem, ‘Swifts’, invite the reader into a world that is not our own but rather one which exists inside a frame: 

Two swifts, higher almost 
than the air, look down 
upon a painted sea.

The (literal) bird’s eye view that we find here is re-imagined in different ways across the chapbook, most evocatively in ‘Constellation’: 

So often, we made the animals 
companions of angels, of the small 
god tethered to the manger. 

Here, the poignant imagery of animals and angels in alliance signals to the medieval concept of the Great Chain of Being, yet these poems echo a contemporary concern – humankind’s disconnect from the natural world. Unsurprisingly given that the title of the pamphlet invokes Noah’s prediluvian vessel, even if through the slightly distorted prism of the (potentially) fictional German Count Iggleheim, animals abound in these pages. Many are placed front and centre, as in ‘Lady with an Ermine’, ‘Peacock’ and ‘Rhinoceros’, but Kinloch also plays with the idea of visual representation in his depiction of different creatures: 

How do you insert
The tiny portrait of an animal
Through a model porthole?

(‘A Model Ship’)

Throughout the collection, a cautionary warning seems to linger beneath the surface: the animals and birds with whom we share the world may one day survive only in artworks or other modes of visual representation. 

Two particular threads become more evident on second and third readings of Iggleheim’s Ark: the elevation of animals towards the celestial; the grounding, or de-centring, of artworks into passive colouration. Several of the poems respond to particular paintings yet in these Kinloch focuses on the animals rather than the human elements – the subjects of the painting, its artist, the act of making art. In doing so, Kinloch elevates the animals from creatures lurking silently into protagonists and active participants, as highlighted in his response to The Journey of the Magi – here, the silent ornamental birds of Benezzo Gozzoli’s painting are foregrounded, humanised and given a voice:

We queue at the feet of angels.
Painters and poets busy
About us for centuries.
At their best, our ornithological voices
Have pierced human plumage
With cries that are almost like birds

(‘A Detail of Birds’)

We are reminded through Kinloch’s imagery, which lingers long after reading, that the earth and its creatures are not static beings, as they are on canvas, but instead move, feel, interact with their surroundings, including humankind –

         The fire in darkness. The shrouded light. 
Shadows bigger than all of them agitating
on limestone walls, a sketch of deer 
and blue-grey bison chiming
with the gift of morning


Kinloch layers animals, art and human action into a collection that is, appropriately, fable-like, serving as a warning of what we’ll lose if the real is replaced by representation:

I cannot talk to a monkey. Though
They chatter back at me.
The monkey is done in oils

(‘Two Monkeys In The Jungle’) 

Iggleheim’s Ark is published by Stewed Rhubarb Press

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