You Might Have Said, Marjorie Carter
Garlic Press, 2015  £5.00

Love, and reversal (Helena Nelson)

There’s a sweetness in Marjorie Carter’s poems, and charm. She can summon absolute delight, as in ‘Cartwheels’ where she so perfectly describes ‘the airiness of the legs / flying perfectly over then over again / toes skimming the grass’ and the exuberant triumph at the end when the child lands right way up.

And yet, loss weaves through this pamphlet like a rivulet of tears, contained between its banks but never forgotten. The title poem, ‘You might have said’ deals most delicately with the brutal and unexpected, its ending a total surprise. With perfect control of tone, death is invited into the poem as an honoured guest.

In ‘Afterglow’, the poet sees two people reflected in the window, and then the two pressing their real human faces against the reflections, and finally only one person out on his own in the garden:

You raise a hand and smile as leaves fall
around you and turn – I see you turn away.

And then he’s gone (forever), and all ‘reflections blur’. There’s still sweetness, but an unmistakable edge undercuts this, and does not reassure.

In ‘Quarry’, hunters come striding out of the wood to a country scene, with children skating and yelling in fun. The jolly company is prepared to welcome them in this winter afternoon with more snow expected:

Hunters, we told each other,
caught far from home and glad
to find our valley as the light fades
and more snow to come.
Let’s welcome them.

But the hunters do not come in friendship.

Love and reversal: these are Marjorie Carter’s parameters, handled with tenderness, grief and delight.

Poem as concertina (Charlotte Gann)

My favourite of these poems open up and compress again, rather like concertinas. In a few, short, ragged lines, the poet opens up great worlds, and personal histories, and then as quickly neatly closes them again. I love the dual effect of quite startling insight, then containment.

‘Lost for Words’ – perhaps my favourite – starts with the word ‘Sad’, and ends on ‘singing’. I like this contrast – and its journeying between these two points in perhaps the less expected direction. 

This is powerful, too, as the poem charts a parting – between two people who, it says, ‘seemed meant for each other’. And yet, it closes, so strikingly – having covered such distance – on their finding their own fruitful ways forward.

Within the poem’s midst, most notably, it captures ‘where the gap opens: / it could even have been / a kitchen / or the middle of a street’. People are together, they say goodbye, there is a sadness. ‘But then, as she receded,/ he almost brightened’.

The poem ‘Journeys’ again has two distinct ‘book-ends’. It starts in a present, and brings us back there. It’s the loop it takes us on in between, though, that makes it remarkable.

This is poetry that works like our minds do. Stepping ‘into a limousine’, here, carries our protagonist back to another similar body-memory: another grand car, another red-letter day –

and how they’d sat
feeling so new, too pleased to speak,
their linked hands fused.

Today, ‘Sitting up straight’, she’s travelling alone – and, this time, ‘carrying grief like flowers’.

Finally, ‘Your Trousers’ is a poem like no other. A man sits down beside ‘me’, ‘wearing your trousers’, writes the poet – though, of course, for various clear reasons, they cannot actually be ‘your’ trousers.

But those grey corduroys
gave me a jolt.
I felt my hand go to reach out
to stroke the velvet and squeeze
the dear familiar knee inside
but something stopped it just in time.