TSC Book Reviews | A Guide to Field and Wood by Robert Wood | Shaiq Ali



Robert Wood begins with a crucial Preface which sets the necessary ground. He writes that

            if we collaborate on this, come to a consensus of what is language, you might find a different way to come at the text

He makes clear that understanding the text is a two-way process, beginning way before the author and continuing with each reader, changing with every reading, every time. He insists on it in the Afterword as well. Giving a sense of what lies ahead, the author decentralizes the act of comprehension. Moreover, in order for the result to be cohesive and consistent, it must connect to something which each reader can relate to, something which is embedded in the lives we live, what we connect to, our agonies and ecstasies, our anchors, our seas. Robert therefore, devises an ingenious solution for this.


        Swallowed by the whale | a fleet | a shell |an anchor made of chains | daisy | swell | a       crown of thorns | a reef | a break | to the seagrass pasture | the Poet of an island |    continent | confined to myth time from silence | back once again to speak and write of             universal literature | an assembly of absolute knowing dissembled | put together     again by rhyming | write to the wire and flowing with lava | steamed & muscular | a    bronze calf | inside the stomach of a serpent | that was our origin


A Guide to Field and Wood, as is made clear above, is an attempt to write a universal literature, a creation of a new legend, one where our absolute knowledge counts for nothing, where our origin is told through new objects, relations and permutations. There are no names in the text, no defined places, everything comes across to us as the narrator progresses, nothing is a given. Further, against the tendency to acclimatise nature to ourselves, his Herculean task is to acculturate himself to the natural, both human and non-human.

Corresponding to a postcolonial image, one could say that this sudden decolonised world is strikingly bleak, unknown and new to touch and feeling. Judith Wright, an important Australian poet wrote in 1956, “before one’s country can become an accepted background against which the poet’s imagination can move unhindered, it must first be observed, understood, described, and as it were, absorbed.” To ‘absorb’ these new surroundings, the narrator The Poet finds himself on a journey where he meets new people, transforms through his experiences and learns to interact with nature, tracing the footsteps of his ancestors. He aims to be the Discover-er of this new-found geography. The ecology of this new rediscovered nature fascinates him. Thus, A Guide becomes truly a handbook to align one’s imaginative processes with that of his surroundings, with its differences and universalities.


     | their bodies a canvas | a still life | a shimmering glittering glistening | pomegranate |      sandalwood | quandong, peppermint, jam tree | honey upon your thigh


    He became a frangipani | he became rosemary | he became an olive | grove of aloe |         and tussock | weed | kangaroo | paw paw of Law | wearing consciousness like a halo |    like holly like mistletoe like hope alone from eyes third and clay ground wet and red   from yolk | he flew as a bird of paradise | made from green and gold


Images of sandalwood, quandong, jam tree, frangipani, tussock and much more provide new ties for the narrator to locate himself, as part of a diverse ecosystem along with exploring both human and non-human surroundings to fulfil his imaginative quest. There is also a recognition, an acknowledgement of the world left behind when the Explorer is shown to depart for a voyage to the City, to ‘find the souls… in its slums and towers’, almost a reverse voyage. The Poet now does not long for the city which he has  alienated away, for he is finally one with his new identity.


        We fought against | dying forgetting | history | the world | in language of our own making


The language of this transformational process becomes the writing of the tale itself. Living becomes poetic, Writing becomes living. There are still questions to be answered, there is still a story to be told, tragedies to overcome and joys to remember and writing becomes its lone medium. Both the Poet and his Lover undergo creative transformations. The ever-changing surroundings in the midst of which he finds himself can only be unravelled and made sense through the utilisation of the creative consciousness. In an attempt to write a universal literature, Robert Wood invokes age-old myths as well as creates his own fables, highlighting his own progress as a poet, paying tribute to battles of people around the world and most importantly, identifying the attacks on native cultures and languages. Written in English, I feel, the text definitely stands on the Oppressed side of language, amplifying the battle-cry against the oppressor.


    They told that story | of hunting crayfish | a rock pool | and eight of us | their tails sixteen | and the stars above | and we ate for hours afterwards


The connection with Judith Wright’s ‘Rockpool’ is almost uncanny. Written in a 7-couplet ghazal form, it embodies an alternative attempt towards creating a universal text by experimenting with diverse techniques, images and styles taken from various cultures. Both texts express the poet’s dissatisfaction and anguish with the contemporary conflicts and contradictions along with being rooted in their bond with nature.

A Guide, however appeals to the need for a single, encompassing text wherein the role of language itself is being changed, from being an instrument of subjection to be a medium of connection with all. Something which was already here and it only needs a little excavation.


    Language comes from the birds in the trees | unspeaking |singing


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