Climacteric, Jo Bratten
Fly on the Wall Press, 2022 £6.99
The opening poem
It’s always interesting to consider the running order in a pamphlet and particularly which poem starts the set. Accepted wisdom is that the first piece should be a strong one — something that has the poetic muscle to carry the reader onwards. It can also be the poet’s way of introducing themselves.
The first poem in Climacteric, Jo Bratten’s debut, is a triumph on both counts. In ‘New Year’s Day’ there are no resolutions. The poet is not looking forward; she is
the bath, tugging snakes of hair
from the stinking drain, wondering
how so much of me got down here.
As a ‘this is me’ poem, it’s a wonderfully artful way of announcing the poet’s voice — wry, questioning and good humoured. It shows with lovely irony the ambivalence of the poetic process. I thought of Marianne Moore’s ‘I too dislike it’ and Yeats’ ‘foul rag and bone shop of the heart’. As an introduction to a pamphlet, it’s irresistible.
Why so? To me, it says this is a poet who will not flinch at the task of what needs to be explored, extracted and examined. And the end result will shine like a clean bath. Like Janus, this poem looks both ways — all that debris down the drain, some of it retrievable, but much long gone:
In the cold estuary I’m circling
black terns under a groggy sky
There’s a sense of travel onwards into a future where the poet (or bits of them) wakes:
somewhere in the body of a whale,
retched up on your shore, a warning.
The sustained metaphor that takes us from plug hole to ocean anticipates the metaphysical questioning to come. The quasi-biblical ending hints at a combination of ecological and spiritual concerns. And all this from cleaning the bath.
If I read a review that only talked about one poem I’d be suspicious. But — honestly — I have read the whole pamphlet (many times) and none of the poems disappoints. That said, a first poem must inspire you to start the journey. This one does just that.