Vestigial, Juana Adcock
Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2022 £5.99
‘the marks left behind’
Juana Adcock’s intriguing pamphlet takes as its core theme the idea of the ‘vestigial’ — a remnant or trace of something. Although the poems are written in response to Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, I was seeking a point of connection to them on their own terms.
These are poems about impressions and, as the speaker puts it in the final poem (‘Narcissus of Sillicon Valley’) ‘the marks left behind’. There is a focus on memory, loss and what could have been — the undersides of our lived experience.
In ‘Vestigial’ (1), while playing a harmonium, the speaker senses:
vestiges from another world
what we never did
what we took for granted
what treasures we squandered
Some poems are set against the backdrop of lockdown: a strange, disconnected time where the vestigial / residual (what’s lost, what remains) came more starkly to the surface of our everyday lives.
Formally and linguistically, the poems have the de-centring quality of dreams. They feel less like consciously crafted wholes than surfaced fragments, building and connecting across pages. The poems tend to end mid-thought, as if they’ve been cut off, or shaken awake.
Perhaps the finest poem is the central piece, ‘Sufflation for a found harmonium tuned to ‘ay no!’, the querulous Spanish interjection that sounds identical to the English words ‘I know’’. This tells of an ‘evicted’ harmonium, rescued by the speaker and her ‘depressed boyfriend’ after a night out. Years after the boyfriend’s ‘disappearance’ (a word that evokes a complex loss), the speaker forges a ghostly connection with this instrument that transcends the boundaries of time and place: ‘look at the sky,’ the harmonium sings to her, ‘and think about what you love’.
The harmonium, likened to ‘an enchanted forest creature’ seems to me a rich metaphor — both haunting and unusual — for the power of human memory.
These poems did their work on me slowly, inviting re-reading. They had something of the palimpsest about them; they had to be worked over and over before beginning to whisper their meaning(s). I found that they lingered with me, calling me back to them to investigate further.