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Atomic Robins and LEDs: A Brief Review of National Poetry Competition Winner ‘Robin In Flight’ by Paul Adrian

The winner of the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition 2010 was announced on Thursday. Paul Adrian’s rather clever winning poem, ‘Robin In Flight’, can be read here. The Guardian is kind enough to include a photograph in case you were unsure what a flying robin looks like.

This is what I think is interesting about this poem:

Its success comes from its strength of thought, as it “imagine[s] for a second” an alternative metaphysics whereby nothing is “a contained entity” in itself, but instead is constituted of the unmoving “particles” in the space through which it passes. Space is then a “still universe”, a fixed three-dimensional grid of particles, like an LED cube matrix, which is altered by “will” or “instinct”. The attractiveness of the idea, especially for poetry, is clear, as it exalts supposedly immaterial forces of consciousness and being – “will”, “instinct”, “thought” – as creators of the material world, as well as being primarily visual. (The suggestion of pixels on a screen in the “still universe” matrix is relevant, falling with the “film” and the technological hints in “code of its possible settings”.) This is a distinctly poetic mode of thought, as the list which occupies the second half of the second stanza enacts through language what it describes: producing an “infinite” number of possible things out of the same single “speck of world” that is the speaker’s voice. The infinite possibility compressed into the items of the list then serves to explode the compass of the poem, and the vertiginous speed and scope of this (found somewhere in the terror behind “the skin’s at the bullet’s/nudge the moment before impact”) gives ‘Robin In Flight’ its final impact. Paul Adrian’s achievement in this poem is in the way in which the flow of the poem unfalteringly builds pressure towards the impact of this explosion, which is the highest point in the fiction of the poem’s metaphysics of a robin as “a living change”. It is a powerful idea expressed with considerable control. (The reader is too distracted by the atomic robin to be very much upset at the absence of any texture in the language, so I suppose form and technique should escape any comment.)

The runners-up and commended poems are also terribly impressive, and worth a read.