The fragmentary intimacies of time passed
To timestamp something is to mark it seen, noted, witnessed. Time might be stamped to render ways of seeing, ways of being present. In most people’s lives, the details of what their days and nights have really been like—the fragmentary intimacies of time passed—remain permanently unknowable. Even regarding ourselves, we forget, unless we write the instances and how they strike us as they occur. The minutiae of the domestic is coded surplus to record or even to possibility. The past is punctuated by impenetrable white space, but here, all is not lost. Whether these poems, in all their pithy, wry, often tender shapes are confessional or not, these moments, so conjured, nevertheless remain, stamped indelibly on time past.
Though they were written before the world changed in that way, it is difficult not to read these poems through the lens of pandemic, in the distinct dualisms of time before and time after. It feels almost possible to read the careful curations as forms of entry, to feel and touch and be immersed among their sensations. In this way, the poems summon a visceral reaction. Any, or many poetry collections might be read as a kind of mosaic, but Timestamps seems especially made up of broken pieces rearranged into an order in which the parts only loosely correlate. Nevertheless, the abutting details work lyrically as a whole, especially as they mimic the way that such experiences and observations occur in everyday life.
In ‘Veranda’ there is a merging of language that joins and marks temporal concerns with anthropomorphic images of both weariness and violence:
The year lies down.
December heat throttles. (20)
This juxtaposition of time paired with more human concerns is evoked again in ‘Frannie,’ where:
Afternoon ease paints her blue,
To fan breath into her parables (16)
And here too, facial features take on characteristics of the natural world, where tears are ‘climbers’:
From the stoic heights
Of her pale plane cheeks. (16)
In ‘Westerly’, with its braided senses of place, popular culture and weather patterns, the speaker of the poem recalls a pastoral scene of herself and her horse, how their plaintive voices are one when they call ‘to still the night’ (17).
All throughout Timestamps is a sense of nature being known, drawn and interconnected with different elements, and images, so that each individual part becomes seamless, indivisible from each other. This sometimes manifests as movements towards the consolatory, as in ‘Break,’ where:
Boats are moored for sleep (22)
and in the following poem, ‘Letter home’ the observation that:
Mountains don’t move,
There is that to come back to. (23)
In poems like ‘Erasure,’ loss and effacement are elicited with the understanding that:
Every word handwritten has been erased,
For the books are in the sea, sinking. (26)
In truth though, everything here is in opposition to erasure, all is intimately remembered, every word, scene, act and emotion accounted for. Within these poems, the keenly noted details are like stitches unpicked, and it is the stitches themselves (what has held the components of these lives and memories together) that is examined in minute detail, everything catalogued as vital and precise, and worthy of its place in time and posterity. It is, as succinctly stated in ‘Demerara jar’, that:
Here is what I felt/
Here is where
I have been. (32)
Timestamps is accordingly dense with physical locations—both recognisable places and more oblique references. There are also glimpses of what has transpired within those locations, yet not in the sense of postcard vignettes. Westcombe’s attendance to language, timelessness and keen observation of experience, is imbued with image and remembrance. In ‘Sylvia’ for instance, the time that is stamped marks a place, a shore, a threshold of sorts perhaps. In Westcombe’s deft hands, the shore is more than passive backdrop: it (or she) is ‘ready,’:
She combs through your heart.
Blue, blue and vast
As a death. (33)
The collection is at times reminiscent of Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ in The Prelude with the reinvoked consolations of nature. For Westcombe, nature can be a balm, but within the poems there is also present, a lurking intimation of peril, where a ‘wooden flower eats you whole’ (31). In ‘Lure’, it is ‘the edge’ of the mind that is ‘at home in the bush’ (27), while in ‘Camp’ there is only:
Before we get on the bus, you’ll
Regret not swimming, everyone likes to
The poem’s speaker here dreamily conflates the surrounding green pastures with French fields, but at the same time:
Bluebottles crowd an inland
with notions of the possibility of pain to be endured in exchange for supposedly easy joys. Finally, in ‘Transeasonal 7pm’ the speaker begins to truly merge with their environment, something that the poems have been leaning toward all along:
The crack and crunch and me,
Made of breath; listening. (53)
This foreshadows the sense of an inherent and complete return to nature as the collection draws to a close. As the speaker becomes one with the described surroundings, this voice becomes increasingly impervious to more corporeal concerns and attachments. Timestamps concludes, indeed, with ‘Native’ and its unmistakable impression of time ending as it does for all living things, with rest. But there is also a continuation intimated, or perhaps an epilogue: a lightness, a new kind of existence where one can be, simply:
A laugh half-heard,
Culminated, these words form the lining for a nest of remembering, of having noticed and curated how things once were. Like a bowerbird’s collection of blues, they are fragments inscribed in all their precise renderings, an archive of what is not lost for having been observed and set down.
we publish this review of Timestamps in the spirit of honouring and remembering the work of Sofie Westcombe.
Timestamps by Sofie Westcombe. Five Islands Press, 2019. ISBN 978073405521