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The Pale Ladder
by Richard Skelton

A collection of most of Richard Skelton’s poetry since 2005, including the work done for his private press Sustain-Release.

Author: Richard Skelton

Out Now, paperback edition.

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The Pale Ladder collects the majority of Richard Skelton’s poetic writing since 2005, including work first published in 2009 through his own Sustain-Release Private Press, and selections from the Corbel Stone Press catalogue, including writing co-authored with Autumn Richardson – an endeavour which must constitute one of the most significant and sustained small press collaborations of recent years. The anthology contains the following collections:

Corbel Stone Press

Landings: Valley of the Small River (2009)
Landings: Names. Dates. Genealogies. (2011)
Wolf Notes (2010)
The Flowering Rock (2012)
Moor Glisk (2012)
Limnology (2012)
Bark, Xylem (2013)

Over one hundred poems and texts are reprinted in The Pale Ladder, including work from many long out-of-print and limited edition titles such as Flock, Sightings and Become a Ford:

Typography of the Shore (2009)
Skin & Heather (2010)
Into the Bare Moorland (2010)
Ridgelines (2011)
Little Knives (2011)
Domain (2012)
Multitude (2012)
Four Wing (2012)
Rill (2012)
Rowk (2012)
Wolfhou : The Absented Bield & Other Songs (2013)
Become a Ford (2013)
And the Dark Wheels Again (2013)
Evidence of Capillary Beauty Dismantled (2014)
I Know Not Where (2014)

In gathering these various works together for the first time, it is possible to glimpse the artist’s overarching themes – the interconnecting threads – and to plot their development. Key among them is the desire to observe, to bear witness and to record the testimony of the land itself, through its many and varied agencies – its topography and weather, its flora and fauna, its place-names and dialects, and its records and archives. Martyn Hudson describes this as “a sustained reflection on the nature of land and biography” – an “idiosyncratic archiving of local topographies and the secrets they hold”. Crucially, he identifies Skelton’s focus on the “borders between the human and the non-human, and between actuality and imagination”, and it is this attention to what lies beyond material reality that characterises much of Skelton’s work – his willingness to give voice to the countless others; the land’s heretical and supernatural voices:

Who wrote Anglezarke?
The river, all mouth and
chatter, dries up. The
blabbing fields cry wolf.
Sheep stare blandly. In
the glib darkness I held
the moor in my hands.
Rolled it up in circles.
Conjured it from my
pillow. But now the
night eyes of the wood
glower. The moor turns
its back. Disowns me.
You come here but we
don’t need you. Begone,

—(Cuckoo, 2009)

The various testimonies ‘documented’ here are, as Robert Macfarlane observes, “litanies spoken against loss”, and this archival function of the word-hoard is a deep imperative running through much of the writing published in The Pale Ladder. The act of naming – as a means, not of possessing things, but simply acknowledging their existence – is a powerful facility of language, but Skelton consistently challenges it by drawing attention to where language – or at least our language – falls short:

the moor wheels        turns      circles
disowns itself
words fall            scattered       unceremoniously dumped

they glower         collude
shake themselves into new meanings

sense conjured from chatter and darkness

but in the end words fail
come up short       disperse

—(from Thig Taibhse Gu Dian An Àiridh, 2012)

the mute articulations of stems and branches
leaf chatter ligneous murmurs
scripts of bark and leaf
and the heretic voicings of birds

a knot of grammars

which you will never unravel

—(from Knot, 2013)

But despite this, Skelton returns again and again to the incantatory rhythm of the litany – all grammar and superfluous vocabulary falls away to reveal the simplest, perhaps most primal, thread of language, the list. As Macfarlane notes in his comparison to the figure from Finnish mythology, Skelton’s is a writing that “longs for that power of utterance also sought by Vainamoinen: the magic words”.

Additional information

Weight380 g
Dimensions18 x 155 x 240 mm


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