Rosie Johnston's story of Orion the hunter is 'an epic poem in the classical tradition', writes Louise Richardson
From former Portstewart and now London-based poet and author, Rosie Johnston, comes a second poetry collection described as 'a longer narrative poem about love, loss and optimism'. Orion: a Poem Sequence is an epic love poem in the classical tradition.
The theme is clear from the outset, but the form is perhaps unconventional. Johnston's poem is 27 pages long, with each page comprised of a trio of short 17 syllable verses. It is a form that Johnston has adopted and become comfortable with. In her first collection, Sweet Seventeens, each bite-sized poem has the same 17 syllable make-up.
Whereas Sweet Seventeens threads a myriad of themes together in one volume however, Orion as a follow-up concentrates and focuses Johnston's considerable talents on one universal theme. Orion is a giant leap forward for Johnston.
This time around, Johnston has compiled a richly rounded poem that flows beautifully as one piece, one entity. And yet, for those readers who prefer to dip in and out of a collection, each perfectly sculpted stanza can also be appreciated in isolation.
Once acquainted with Johnston's form, you can get on and enjoy the poetry. The chief protagonist here is Orion, the mythical huntsman of Greek legend, whom Zeus personified as a constellation. This is the story of his search for, and rejecting of, love.
Love: that wonderful, turbulent, endearing and dangerous state of being. Describing the emotion, Johnston writes: 'Love gusts around us unseen / Surrounds / Us, deep in our every breath.'
Yes this love that envelopes us can also consume. The search for companionship, tainted by lust, can often drive us mad. Thus '... Orion's searching the / Sky's wheel / For a huntress to ensnare him.'
Tentatively, hesitantly, Johnston wills her troubled hero onwards. Orion's love interest takes a 'delicious risk' in accepting him. In turn he takes her to the very precipice of pain and ecstasy before bringing her crashing back down to the pits of despair, longing and loneliness. 'I tread in my blind huntsman's tracks / Towards / His old familiar traps.'
From coy closeness to absence – 'pining, sighing' – the reassuring glow of Orion's love dims and sorrow and weariness creep in. The ebb and flow of his tide of emotion becomes unbearable. 'My tears are love songs falling / In silence / Over my Orion's trail.'
The seasons shift and now, again, there is hope, 'sweet recognition' and time spent adrift in love once more. The hunter has returned and with him comes comfort – even if it is cold. 'Who is Orion's prey' now? Doubts deepen as the skies clear to reveal the depth of betrayal, it's reality 'Stranger's pale hair... caught in our sheet's crease.'
Love is a force bigger than us mere mortals. The question is, when must we choose to leave it behind, and how? Johnston invites her readers to dance to the alluring tune of love whilst simultaneously sowing the seeds of sadness throughout her poem.
As the piece progresses, these seeds take root and slowly strangle the joy of her tale. Like weeds choking the corn, they steadily overwhelm it. But love, as with history, is something that us mortals rarely learn from. 'Round again, round spins the / Sky's wheel / As we live the old fables anew.'
Orion is published by Lapwing Publications.