Notes on Water, Amanda Dalton
Smith/Doorstop, 2022 £6.50
Navigating the waters of grief
The pamphlet consists of two long-ish poems, each titled Notes on Water, one beginning from one end of the publication, the other (upside down) from the other. The two poems would meet in the middle were it not for a centre-spread of watery photographs.
Both poems are collages of memories, thoughts and information in varied forms, including prose-poetry. Both flow like rivers: forwards, but also sideways at times, between dreamscapes and reality; present, past and future; the personal and the general.
There appears to be no correct order in which to read, and readers could jump between the two. I plumped to start with the one voiced in the first person, which plunges the reader right in:
I’m swimming in an artificial pool
inside a broken building.
Flooding in Hebden Bridge, where three rivers meet, presages the inundation of grief that the poet experiences when her partner dies from an unspecified illness ‘before [she has] said goodbye to the man / who will leave in winter’.
Her dislocation finds her swimming, either metaphorically or for real, like a supra-human creature:
Down here is jackdaw black,
blacker than blackout, blacker
than Vantablack and I am
a cave fish, accidental troglomorph,
with nothing but a raft of papers
breaking down in the wet.
For the second long poem, you turn the pamphlet the other way up and start from the other end. This time the narrator, in third-person mode, records the dying man's rapid decline:
In just seven weeks he goes
from coffee and wine
to peppermint tea
to tiny fruits
on a spoon
Worse follows. The use of third-person adds distance, as if the poet is watching people other than herself and her partner. Memories of his former dynamism intrude to contrast with the awfulness:
He always said he hated swimming,
still he would dive into pools and she remembers
the violence of his splash, the wild front crawl,
the way he shot underwater, up and out
in a single breath.
There are many other, beautifully tender lines, not least those which depict the poet’s loss, her partner’s absence and his shadowy ghosting.
I must add that there’s been a recent, marvellous Radio 3 adaptation.