Flarestack Poetry, 2008 £3.00
This first collection from Alison Hill closes with the title poem 'Peppercorn Rent'. The poem depicts an old woman at the end of her life sitting in the cottage she is renting. Like many of the poems in this collection, 'Peppercorn Rent' is concerned with memory:
Nearing ninety with no-one left, yet the orchard stirs
with old friends drifting from the shadows to greet her.
She pulls her blanket tighter, nodding vaguely,
trying to place their names, their faces.
The writing doesn't descend into nostalgia however. There is an honesty and clarity that prevents this, as in the blunt statement that there is 'no-one left'.
The collection opens with new life. In 'The Early Hours', a woman sits through the night with her young son. When reading this poem I was struck by the sense of movement of time—the child reaching out towards his place in the world, described as
... a quivering mass
of need with an occasional stillness
and the mother, although grounded in her care for him (in fact described as “rooted”) is herself
... awash with night flashes
of long forgotten travels, snatches
of foreign scenery ...
In 'Words Left Unsaid', ideas of memory and the movement of time are opened further to reveal the shifts and distances that can grow between people over time. The narrator of the poem describes meeting up with a friend she has not seen for years:
I love spring flowers she said again,
but their scent eluded me.
We smiled at each other, down the years,
and waited for the old conversation to spark.
The detail of the friend repeating her declaration about spring flowers is particularly touching, and evokes perfectly a desire and striving for communication between people.
This is a collection that grew on me with repeated readings, and I felt the simplicity and clarity of writing to be its strength. There are many lines and images that stayed with me. My favourite was the last line of 'The Early Hours', when the description of a woman's night sitting up with her young child ends:
Dawn breaks, and my heart turns over.