Temporary Stasis, Lucy HolmeThe jacket is white with monochrome design, but the colour is not black, I think, but dark brown. This colour is also used for the title which is precisely in the middle, stretches the full width of the jacket and is in caps. Below it the author's name is centred in tiny italics. Above and below the heading there are huge, beautifully drawn symbols. In the top half an anchor and a compass, in the bottom half a ship's steering wheel with a currling wave (I think) inside it, and a lighthouse with stripes like a helter-skelter.

Broken Sleep Books, 2022   £8.99

The various forms of ‘she’

This debut coheres around lived experience connected with a young woman working in the private yachting industry. The reader sees the seamy, and sometimes distressing, side of that work, definitely not the glamour.

Four poems are erasures drawn from Hundreds of Things a Girl Can Make [1900]. The first quickly sets a protective and yet unsettling tone:

Slip up, gather tight.
The end cannot be seen.
Carefully conceal as much as possible

[ …]

Bright colours, look attractive —
stiff underneath

     [‘a girl’]

I was interested in the way pervasive tenderness for the vulnerable female manifests in unexpected places. For example, ‘Pruning for Beginners’, the second poem in the collection, refers to a bonsai tree that turns out to be female:

I still dream the outline of her limbs.
Her twisted ornamental branch.

Then the fish in ‘Flying Fish’ also turns out to be a ‘she’ (‘You kneel, watch her fin-wings beat a sombre tune’) and of course the hermit crabs in ‘Wilderness’, preparing to lay their eggs in the surf, are ‘red mothers’ with whom the poet closely identifies when she says she was

Unaware that in later years,
a million miles from Cossies beach,
I would beg doctors to slice me open,

to take her out, rather
than I go on without her.

Even the unborn child is a ‘she’, and while that baby may be lost, it’s clear she’s also cherished.

Finally, there’s another female fish in ‘The Lament of a Future Daughter of Neptune’. Here the ‘they’ who catch the fish are of unstated gender, but ‘the King and his helper’ imply everyone is male except ‘we’. The captured fish is brandished like a sacrifice:

Then — hoisted and hooked,
bashed and sliced, blood sprayed
into scuppers,

All remains cleaned
from sun-bleached decks —
they hold her up.

What a difference it makes to say ‘they hold her up’ and not ‘they hold it’! Then the poet adds another chilling stab of emotive shock in her final stanza:

Just a baby, they say,
as they gather their tools
and begin their work.

Helena Nelson