Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: 'Master Of Works' By Rennie Parker

Master of Works

The parkland there, Sir
Not obtrusive to the casual eye

It’s artifice concealed in the approved English manner.
Remark upon your left the small temple

-Let us say, to Harmony or the Four Winds –
Advise me on the image immured within –

As if, Sir, the ancients themselves
Did pour their blessings on your fine estate.

You will find it an esteemed model
As seen in the later volumes of Vitruvius.

A humble façade, Sir,
Should not be countenanced here;

The correct gesture is worth an hundred lies.
I have designs, you may rest upon it –

When the population is cleared from the gate
You will have unbroken prospects.

Some years ago, as a writing exercise, I tried to envisage a hypothetical meeting between William Hogarth and Capability Brown. Conjuring a scenario in which Brown defends the order and grandeur of his carefully manicured landscapes against the satirical attack of an artist who is an instinctive seeker of truth beneath appearances, the resulting dialogue is a tongue-in-cheek collision of world views.

In ‘Master of Works’ - Rennie Parker’s fine poem of class obeisance and order in the Age of Reason – ‘enlightened’ values unravel in the final lines as the intrusion of teeming, impoverished humanity is ‘cleared’ away from the grand iron gates which separate the aristocracy from those who would obstruct their manmade vista. Painful subcutaneous truths often break surface in Parker’s poems: jolted by a volte face, shaken by an unexpected shock of recognition, we find evidence of a profound judiciousness in the interstitial fabric.

Parker’s brilliant and authentic rendering of the elegant language of the eighteenth century foregrounds, rather than otherwise, the irony of the poem’s conclusion: the narrator, the Master of Works’, complacent afterthought is his mea culpa, if not measured merely by the cultural standards of his contemporaries. His promise to shelve conspicuous human refuse is no less than a representation of the monied classes’ abuse of the servile majority, upon whose labour the stately homes of England were, in any case, predicated.

The artificiality of the parkland’s Classical design is mirrored by the mannered nature of the language. The grand panoramas, the manufactured sleights-of-hand, are the ‘lie’ of the land whose promulgation demands the excision of an inconvenient presence. In the end, Rennie Parker’s sympathies lay squarely with another history – of the voiceless and forgotten.

‘Master of Works’ is taken from Candleshoe and is published by Shoestring Press.

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