Dear Life, Maya C Popa
Smith/Doorstop, 2022 £6.50
The yin and the yang
The combination of ‘Wound’ and ‘Wonder’ in the title to the first poem (‘Wound is the Origin of Wonder’) encapsulates the use of complementary forces. Even the noun in italics is swapped round from the Contents page. By interacting and connecting in the natural world, the yin and the yang make up all aspects of life. In the same poem we have ‘Like all falls, we came at ours / by pleasure’, and ‘you sing / when you should tremble’, extremes housed within one relationship.
Equally, ‘joy’ and ‘wound’ are used in ‘The Bends’, a poem about surgery.
The work is rich in its references too. I sensed allusions to Dante in this dramatic and intensely lyrical collection, with subsequent nods to Galileo, Milton, Larkin and others. The second poem even has a medieval title (‘Margravine’):
youths commit all sorts of crimes to prove
they’re not afraid of what’s coming for them.
They have the right idea, the wrong one,
Many of Maya’s poems are about relationships. One or two have a religious element, and other ideas include illness, maternal as well as sexual love, the pursuit of pleasure, man’s interference with wildlife, wars and other violations, and invariably the awareness of time passing.
Often the poems are based on extended metaphors. For example, ‘The Peacocks’
can’t be conceived of fully
without blinking back a dread at splendor
so near a public waste bin, the likelihood of failure.
Later, the speaker asks ‘how much more will this world enrage’ [rather than ‘engage’] ‘us / with its beauty’?
Haven’t I taken that footpath down
a woodland labeled dark; do not enter; idle; want.
In ‘The Owl’, intense feeling ricochets between a couple who may or may not remain in a permanent relationship (‘Something so polite / about enduring its violence’).
Contrasts run right through the finale ‘Dear Life’, which uses a line-fishing metaphor for its ‘beauties’ and ‘injuries’. ‘You fish in open water / ready to be wounded on what you reel in.’
At 33 years of age, Popa has an impressively mature understanding of humans’ limited term between birth and death, and the yin and yang of the damaged selves who comprise the species.