Bloodlines, Sarah Wimbush

Seren, 2020    £5.00

Celebrating Romany culture

These poems vibrate and ripple with the intensity of their colourful characters like Kate and Lizzie, seasoned with the community’s language. The reader travels with the individuals as they go about their business, pitching encampment, foraging, threshing, and selling wares from calling baskets.

Our senses are heightened by an awareness of seasonal landscapes, preparation of food and by the imaginative insertion of Romany vocabulary. Each poem smacks of authenticity and insightfulness.

The title poem is shaped as a hooped earring, curving into a spellbinding commentary on the essence of Romany traditions. Repeats of ‘in the Bloodlines’ emphasise the genetic origin of ‘the murmur on the barval’:

In the Bloodlines there’s an acorn of swagger that
inflates into a barrel wearing a vest. In the Bloodlines
there is nothing to offer up to the Old World except
a pair of shammy bootees —
your past, their past. 

‘Carroty Kate’ introduces us to an unforgettable character, a fortune-teller who speaks of how her predecessors would be hanged ‘just for being’:

I get by dukkering at the next marketplace
with sheeps’ trotters
or a brass groat as payment for the reading,
my kissi belt strapped tight
to my left thigh. 

In ‘A Sund’y in Worksop’ a little girl describes the family’s day, the sound and song of her mother’s work and the men playing pitch and toss. She waters the pony, one of several and ‘metals wield and thud’. Her memory is unreliable given the constant travelling. The poem spills questions and changes of mind.

The child reappears in the sensory ‘I can see Sandbeck Hall’. Bartering second-hand goods within the Romany community, and with rain pouring down, her father calls at the servants’ entrance to collect

the onion sacks filled steel pans, rabbit skins, cast-offs
and two wide skirts belonging to old Lady Scarbrough.

‘The Calling Basket’ introduces original metaphors: needles are ‘hobnails’; cotton reels are ‘vardo wheels’; ribbons are ‘smoke signals for missies’ pigtails and china throats’. And, finally, ‘Mother Tongue’ celebrates the language in a playful dance: one to relish.

Maggie Mackay