The Long Take by Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson (Robin Robertson – Poet) was brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland. After taking degrees in Scotland and Canada he moved to London to work in publishing, for Penguin, Secker & Warburg and Jonathan Cape. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Robertson’s books of poetry are A Painted Field (1997), Slow Air (2002), Swithering (2006), The Wrecking Light (2010), Hill of Doors (2013), Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems (2014), and Grimoire (2020).

In 2018 Robertson published this work, ‘The Long Take‘ in narrative poetry form with noir style. The summary is as follows: Walker, a young Canadian is recently demobilised after The Second World War. He has seen active service in the Normandy landings and subsequent European operations. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unable to face a return to his family home in rural Nova Scotia, he goes in search of freedom, change, anonymity and repair. The reader follows Walker through a sequence of poems as he moves through post-war American cities of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Having fought with Canadian troops against the 12th Panzer Hitlerjugend division after the D-Day landings in the summer of 1944, Walker has been exposed to the blood-soaked horror of war. This has cut him off from his home country, in which people aspire to be part of landscape, ‘becoming like a thorn tree, twisted hard to the shape of the wind’. Rootless, he wanders in the urban landscapes of America laced with references to film noir, and to the work of the directors Robert Siodmak and Joseph H. Lewis in particular. The title alludes to the shot in Lewis’s Gun Crazy (1950) in which a getaway car is filmed in a long continuous shot ‘near three-and-a-half minutes straight through with no cuts’. The Long Take, though, is really a sequence of short takes linked into a single agony of remembrance. Increasingly, flashbacks of the war torment the ex-soldier.

Walker repeatedly sees himself in mirrors and is alienated from the vision. Robertson’s eye for Dionysian violence is shown in his translation of passages from the Dionysiaca, the Greek epic by the fifth-century CE Egyptian poet Nonnus of Panopolis (Nonnus – Wikipedia). Robertson’s poem of 2013 ‘The God Who Disappears’ describes an uncanny scene in which Dionysus is sliced apart by Titans while looking in a mirror: ‘he followed his image into the glass, and was soon/split and scattered, divided up, diced/into the universe … – he shatters us to make us whole.’ For Robertson, human life reads like a continuous process of slicing, dismemberment, dissolution and agony. Can there be any healing in the light of this vision? Read to decide for yourself.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2018
Winner of The Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018
Winner of the 2019 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

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256 pages in Picador

ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-1509886258

First published 2018

Robin Robertson

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