What strikes me in Andrew Stuckgold’s poem ‘Sunflowers’ are the graceful curves of the syntax, and the way he has masterfully employed sound. Reading the first sentence, which runs over three and a half lines, we hear that the ‘o’ sounds are especially evocative: yellow, Picasso, suppose, rose. This is a poem which is very artfully composed, the pitches and cadences of the words, the line breaks and the attention given to the orchestration of the vowel and consonant sounds have produced a poem of compelling mood and reflection. But the visual, too, is striking. The bold heads of the sun flowers, ‘a camera flash of colour’ have centre stage in stanza one. It is hard not to think of Van Gough in relation to sunflowers, but in this poem it is Picasso who is evoked, and the poem as a whole has something to say about the way art manipulates time and space when representing objects, freezing them from the ravages of time.
The second stanza is more wistful and moves to a consideration of the sunflowers not as artefacts, but as physical entities undergoing degeneration and decay, as these lines express: ‘They slip quietly through the empty shadows/ of a distant Spanish autumn afternoon/to lie against the sun lit earth: the real/ without artifice and without history.’ I love the way time and space are so nostalgically evoked in the movement and rhythm of these lines, and the way the poet is moved, not so much by the brightness of the flowers, nor by their symbolic power, but by their fragility and transience, and thus the connection with the human is made. The mood of the poem is achieved largely through rhythm and syntactical variation, and through the linguistic sparks of association. The synesthesia in the poem is also an attraction, where the visual becomes a sound image at the end of stanza one.
Sunflowers Mute faces picked out in masks of yellow: Picasso would have admired them I suppose, but undertaken a transmutation to represent the future rose. Green stems becoming some wild expression of cubic space, doubling and trebling in tension: the heads a camera flash of colour pinned against white canvas, stretched tighter than a screeching violin. But for me, a few stray petals escape now; dry and carried by the blue wind. They are returning end over end, skittering past the painted door step of his studio. They slip quietly through the empty shadows of a distant Spanish autumn afternoon to lie against the sunlit earth: the real without artifice, and without history.