Threadbare, Abbie Neale

Smith Doorstop, 2020   £5.00

Reclaiming love

This pamphlet is divided into two parts that broadly speaking address trauma and healing, respectively.

It starts with a series of poems that set an ominous tone. In ‘The feeding’, there are men who ‘forget’ to wake the poet’s mother, who seems never to eat; in ‘Can you draw him for us’, a child draws a lamp post that cranes like ‘a surrealist showerhead’ over the man who stalked her with sweets and a smile; and in ‘We saw all of it’, there are kids who bully, and ‘bully-dads and bully-mums’.

In ‘The neighbours know’, something that ‘demanded to be seen’ happened to the woman ‘in the house next door and the garden / that used to be pretty’; and ‘Buttermilk’ powerfully portrays traumatic dissociation:

There isn’t time to take off my glasses. I can see
the textured ceiling, like painted popcorn kernels,

and the particles of dust — tiny fibres, carpet lint,
our hair and skin floating like petals and burnt

meteorites. And I can see the end of my nose.

Negative sexual experiences are also evoked in ‘The bed in Bea’s room’ and ‘In a parked car he drives’ — and in ‘“I thought you were into it”’ we read:

It’s like we both forget I’m there.

It will be four years until I learn

that something can be consensual

and wrong at the same time.

In contrast, the second part of the pamphlet is positive and upbeat, an account of how love and connection can contribute to healing.

The poet tells her sister about a new relationship in ‘In my thinking of you’; and ‘Being told that you are loved’ is a wonderful poem about the ‘danger / and relief’ of receiving love. Lovemaking is enjoyed again in ‘The first time since the last time’, and celebrated in ‘Reclaiming the word’: ‘The forest where we fucked looks even better in the daytime.’

This description, in ‘A spectacle in the green hills’, captures the overall tone of where this inspiring pamphlet travels to:

                              I fall towards you
my fawn of a heart straining, eyes open,
into your arms where it bleats, hungry at last. 

Tim Murphy