Whole cover a photo of long green grass, black lettering over thisThe Human Portion, Nicola Warwick

V. Press, 2023 £6.50

Close observation

Just reading the contents page of this pamphlet gave me a sense of the natural world, with titles like ‘Kestrel’, ‘Geese at Dusk’, ‘Hare, in the Garden’. Nicola Warwick has sharp powers of observation which, allied to her skilled use of imagery, make for richly evocative poems. However, she also goes beyond description, sometimes even into the surreal, using nature as a way into deeper feelings.

The woman’s description in the opening poem, ‘Colony Collapse Syndrome’, brought to my mind the character of Miss Havisham with the phrases she ‘wrapped herself in moth-chewed layers’ and ‘became / a queen of wings and shadows.’ In ‘Garden Cross Spiders' the poet moves from describing spiders ‘building their disc-like webs’ to a much more personal scene. She is

desperate to see one trap a fly or wasp binding it
for safekeeping in its larder, tight as an invalid —

like my father in his hospital bed, side-rails in place

I loved the image of a butterfly ‘with the pulse of a sleepy heart’ and the phrase ‘Summer birds stage air shows’ in the poem ‘Late high summer’. The sky here is ‘red as a swallow’s throat’. The poet captures sleeplessness in ‘The Chitterings’, listening to bats, waiting ‘for them to stutter like ticker-tape into the dark.’

Sky is ‘the colour of apricots’ in ‘Watering with the Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa)'. This prose poem centres around an encounter with a moth, ‘a stunner in bright colours’. To my mind, the concluding comment ‘I leave it to itself’ implies that nature and human beings can live harmoniously side by side.

The final poems feature the sea, described as ‘this lucid third dimension’ in ‘You and the sea and a prayer’. In ‘Harbour Spell’, the poet writes:

my ears spiral into whelk
and slipper limpet,
strain for that one song.

‘The Fijian Mermaid’ is an unsettling poem which contrasts the wished-for ‘silver scales and long hair’ with ‘a relic yearning / to be laid at rest, craving its human portion’. I sense an underlying yearning to reconcile the human with the natural world in this mesmerising, closely-observed pamphlet.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad