Visiting the Animal, Lesley Glaister
Mariscat Press, 2015 £6.00

The Effect of Aunt Olive

I could write about Lesley Glaister’s similes, because some of them are exceptionally good. I could write about how one little poem featuring a cactus could blossom in the mind.

But I won’t. I’m writing about Aunt Olive. She’s a Tennessee Williams heroine, a Blanche, an Amanda – larger than life and true to life, hilarious and tragic. In nine poems from ‘Olive, Arthur and Me’ she enters like a whirlwind, and she is riveting. With a ‘lip-stuck ciggie’ and absolute conviction in her own warped perspective, she lectures her niece and her lodger Arthur. She conjures erotic war-time memories of soldiers in alleyways having their wicked way. She has a picture of Mount Etna erupting, a gift from a long-lost Italian lover, and she erupts with it, or at least her memories do. She is gloriously unsuitable.

In “Life Lesson’, Aunt Olive tells the child (‘me’) the truth about life. What a performance—and such fun with parentheses and italics:

He was Italian. (Listen, dear.) Now
he was a man, and how
a man and a half, I’d say
a stallion, not a bloody pansy
he took me for the woman
that I am, took me, he was a man
with all a real man has down this trousers
none of your floppers or failures.

(You wouldn’t know, dear.)

But Aunt Olive has moments of insight into her own tragedy. She's a character with depth, and true emotive charge:

How has it come to this?
A piano half the keys
gone dumb; a silent man.

A room gone dim.

There are a number of memorable poems in this debut poetry collection from Lesley Glaister, an established novelist and playwright. But it’s Aunt Olive who will stay with me.

Helena Nelson