How I wish that I had attended the CCS meeting at Marton in 2019. I would then have heard Patrick Lodge reading some of his Endeavour-inspired poems. I would have listened to his metre, followed his cadences, and hopefully understood his poetry. As it is, I must admit to being left floundering in his wake as I try and interpret his words on the pages of his latest anthology, “Remarkable Occurrences”. The title is a taste of what is to come. Whilst his title is taken from Cook’s subtitle to the Endeavour journal, it also applies to Lodge’s poetry, many of his poems being written in response to some event, personal observation or historic anniversary.
It is 14 years since Lodge retired from his career as an academic historian, and began writing full time. Those years have not been wasted as he has honed his literary skills to levels that plumb beyond my depths of understanding.
He is a poet who knows his subject well. No doubt Cook’s voyages had crossed his path many times during the course of his academic career. To that knowledge base he has added information gleaned from reading primary sources of material relating to the Endeavour voyage, as well as some secondary sources. Lodge is also extremely well travelled, and has visited many of the locations in and around the Pacific associated with Cook.
They say that travel broadens the mind, which might explain the author’s catholic taste over such a wide range of subjects. It might also explain your reviewer’s mental anguish, having only been abroad four times—if you include a day trip to a supermarket in Calais, and a ferry to the Isle of Skye!
Remarkable Occurrences falls into two sections. The first part of the book contains 36 poems in which we join the author at various locations in the British Isles, as well as venturing into Mediterranean climes. These poems are prompted by the situations in which the poet found himself. They provide a fascinating miscellany that contrasts sharply with the second part of the book.
Here we find 20 poems, all inspired by different aspects of Cook’s First Voyage of discovery. The author has arranged the poems into a chronological sequence. However, he points out in his preparatory notes that his works should not be viewed as a history, or a biography, of the voyage. The poems are his personal reactions to scenarios that he encountered during the course of his research.
The chronological sequence is not the sequence in which they were composed. For instance his first composition was “Song for Endeavour”, which was written in collaboration with a musician to be sung at the Leeds Lieder Festival in 2017. This poem is easily understood, as the poet adopts the persona of Cook’s ship to describe how proud she feels in her new role, with her new name.
His second work was “Song for Whitby”, which is replete with references to the sounds of the town, and musical terms to reflect the title of the work. It is here where we get the first inkling of the author’s ability as a wordsmith who can weft history between the warp of his lines.
The 18 poems that follow describe the events that took place around the world at Tierra del Fuego, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. With the first two poems being entitled “Song of…”, that form of title is continued for the subsequent works. All are written in the poet’s usual style of free verse, which sometimes contains sections that need re-reading, due to the enjambement of the lines; but eventually an understanding is achieved.
It is in these poems where the Lodge excels himself. You do not need a great knowledge of Cook’s voyages to follow the superficial stories that he tells. However, the reader will find that the deeper their knowledge of Cook and his voyages, the greater will be their understanding and appreciation of the poems. Lodge’s writing is so creative that at times I found myself trying to spot the poet’s next literary device, rather than following the story that he was telling.
The depths of Lodge’s poetic techniques are matched by the depths of his lexicon. This poetry book is the first one that I can remember having to read with my dictionary to hand. Do you know what “equipoisure” and “threnody” mean, or am I alone in my ignorance?
Whilst I enjoyed reading the poems, I must confess that I was surprised at how few mental images they conjured up for me. I wonder if it is a natural consequence of the complexity of some of the poet’s devices?
The Endeavour poems chosen by Lodge for inclusion in his anthology, cover a range of subjects. Six poems are about the lives of the different members of the expedition, including Young Nick (who first sighted New Zealand), Tupaia, Sydney Parkinson and Joseph Banks, and George Dorlton (a servant of Banks). Most are written with the poet adopting the voice of the subject. There is one noticeable absence, where is James Cook?
Maybe the author is saving that for a subsequent publication that will examine Cook’s Second Voyage?