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‘This is not a play. This is a poem in several registers, set at night on the Severn Estuary. Its subject is moonrise, which happens five times in five different forms: new moon, half moon, full moon, no moon and moon reborn. Various characters, some living, some dead, all based on real people from the Severn catchment, talk towards the moment of moonrise and are changed by it. The poem, which was written for the 2009 festival of the Severn, aims to record what happens when the moon moves over us – its effect on water and its effect on voices.’
A Sleepwalk on the Severn is a poem for several voices, set at night on the Severn Estuary. Its subject is moonrise, which happens five times in five different forms: new moon, half moon, full moon, no moon and moon reborn. Various characters, some living, some dead – all based on real people from the Severn catchment – talk towards the moment of moonrise and are changed by it. Commissioned for the 2009 festival of the Severn, Alice Oswald’s breathtakingly original new work aims to record what happens when the moon moves over the sublunary world: its effect on water and its effect on language.
Here is a major poet, a great poet, no question ... That Oswald works with form, that she is not afraid of risk, gives her poetry a boldness, and has done from the start, when she used the sonnet form for The Thing in the Gap Stone Stile. Dart was wonderful and won Oswald the T.S Eliot prize, but for me, what she has achieved here is even more remarkable. She is stripping away all the time, while adding richness. There is such sureness here, poured through such searching. Nothing is taken for granted - not one single word - every word tested for flight before it is let go.
Sleepwalk is a weird dream of a poem ... the work it most often recalls is Under Milk Wood ... Oswald has a knack for unsettling imagery and her wild world is both domestic and profoundly strange. Like Ted Hughes, Oswald is capable of catching the reader up in swinging, pulsing rhythms, quickening this watery realm into urgent life. Even if it is not a play, this lunar journey does not lack drama or drive ... It is incredible, too, to have managed the feat of so vigourously reimagining the natural world, stripping it bare of centuries of romantic trappings. This is a brave poem that begs to be read aloud.
Oswald approaches it with characteristic sensitivity. The moonlight's "endless wavering" is most clearly seen not in firm descriptions (though these do exist: glorious, hyper-real images of "the fresh cracked fat of the mud" at low tide, "a few stars creeping out like cress" in the darkening sky) but in the flicker and glimmer of her modest qualifiers - the "sometimes" of "flat stone sometimes lit sometimes not"; the "almost" of "almost frost but softer almost ash but wholer" ... Oswald conjures a universe that's tricksy, tenebrous, provisional; in which ghosts and suicides rise up to argue with the living.
Oswald writes quizzical dialoges between people, landscape and animals, with berse interjections from a chorus and soliliquies from them oon and the wind. throughout these passages, there are some wonderful observations ... There is warmth and character too.
has moments of exquisite writing ... truly spellbinding.
[Oswald] seems, once again, to be reaching beyond subject of subject matter, towards something constantly doing and undoing itself in language, like the moon ... Oswald manages the note of the fauz-naif with a tact and lightness which skirt the dangers of sentimentality with wonderful intelligence.
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