My Black Glove, Gemma Reid
Fisherrow Press, 2018 £3.50
Available from: Fisherrow Press, 11 Bush Street, Musselburgh EH21 6HB
Drawing a line
Gemma Reid is a visual artist as well as poet, and the cover of this pamphlet is illustrated with four pencil studies of hands removing a glove. Hands are compelling in artwork, and it’s an interesting idea to try to replicate similar studies in a poetic form.
I wasn’t always sure it worked in these poems — not totally — but I liked the idea, and I liked it best when the language was as precise as a line drawing. For example, in the first section of ‘Your Hands’, there is evocative description in ‘Skin stretched over journeys of veins’ and ‘Translucent skin / and honest nails clipped clean’. I like it because I can see it.
And then the narrator says (of the hands):
I can’t comprehend their stories,
imagination fails [ ... ]
For me, this works less well, not least because I am more interested in the hands than the ‘I’ who is observing them.
What I like best here is simple visual description. In ‘Your Hands IV’, skin is described like this:
The healthy umber
is the parchment of aged texts.
This gives me skin colour and texture with crisp clarity. In the same poem, ‘the thimble of coffee, / the rich silken liquid / and glossy white ceramic’ are also visually striking.
But when the poet moves into an ambitious simile (‘as your passion is cradled, / within a nurturing and gentle authority’), I am no longer seeing the hands, and the cradle is definitely in the way.
The ability to describe simply, and without comment, is often underrated. This poet has that ability, and I think she needs to trust it and use it more. A verbal sketch is often all that’s needed in poetry, where much resides in what is not said.
For me the strongest poem here is not about hands. It is the final poem, ‘Before Your Funeral’, where the narrator is literally lost for words — suddenly they ‘are just strings / of sounds with no meaning’. And yet she does, precisely, explain how it is:
But now I see
I do not have the vocabulary
the intricate filigree of sounds
will float, insubstantial,
with no form or weight
to stand against grief.