plain white cover with back letteringWhite is a Color, Rosmarie Waldrop

Guillemot Press, 2017  £10.00

The meanings of white

A hardcover pamphlet is a rare and somehow indulgent thing. White is a colour indeed and here it’s an intensely gorgeous one, matt and pure with a silver embossed title and black endpapers to set it off. In fact, on the first reading I am more drawn in by the whiteness than anything else.

In poetry, white is usually the frame; it’s the space on the page around the poem. It works hard but it’s also an absence. But handling White is a Color is like paging through – pacing round – a clean modern art gallery: there's a sense of space and lightness. Is the white page a frame for these small rectangular prose poems, or is the frame more important than the contents? It dominates them in a way that feels entirely deliberate.

White is not neutral. It can be peace, coldness, blindness, luxury, cleanness, nothing. The recovery from serious injury depicted in these poems is a journey through all these meanings of white. ‘White has come to stand in for time’ (poem ‘4’), the poet tells us from a hospital bedside. Other colours are tantalising, still out of reach in a less monochrome future, where recovery is ‘an unfamiliar element you haven’t learned to swim in’ (18). But white is comfort too, representing care and simplicity, maybe hope. ‘White ... contains all possible points of view’ (11).

The final physical whiteness in this book is the blank unprinted spine, which I only notice when I close it. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate echo of the spinal trauma and reconstruction within the pages, but it felt fitting.

Rachel Playforth