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The Wild Gods, Malene Engelund 

Valley Press, 2016   £6.99

Poems that circleJacket of pamphlet which is a tall rectangle, dark grey. There is n image of some kind of bushy plant in the top three quarters, dark grey. Below this in caps the name of the poet and the title of the pamphlet. The lettering is in greyish white.

Perhaps my personal favourite poetry collections are those where a poet is visibly revisiting and revisiting a theme or issue or atmosphere they can’t let go of. Like a bird circling, diving, retreating and circling once more.

Malene Engelund’s The Wild Gods is one such. Reading it is like spending time quietly alongside someone who’s preoccupied – and, in this instance, ‘mining darkness’.

This beautiful production — a pamphlet like a small book, with a spine and handsome cover – has a few insistent, recurring themes. There’s a lot of winter and cold within its pages, for example; and a lack of much-missed and yearned-for colour (indeed, there are artists urgently painting). There’s a lake, and drownings (or a drowning of a boy). There’s loss, a lost boy, an unborn child, and a sense of halting development – attempts at moving on. And there are birds circling.

I find the work moving. And the poems themselves often tackle the difficulty of thus returning. Take this, for instance, in ‘After Georgia O’Keeffe’, where again there’s a lost boy and a lake:

That’s how I’ve seen him;
an existence who slips through my hands
when I bring him towards me.

Or: ‘how we always come back / to the thoughts we don’t declare’ (‘Jakob’). This is a poem which holds an image I won’t forget, of ‘the quiet boy a year above’, ‘the globed spectacles framing your eyes / closed to the black water, a silent O caught in your mouth.’

One poem, ‘(untitled)’, has an almost pre-verbal quality, or perhaps beyond words:

that night he so cold
he all wet from water
i fold my thighs over his hands
and be quiet how he like me
that he come back to me again
that he come back

This is a kind of dream-speak, something deeper and more instinctual than dialogue. But it carries immense conviction. And moving forward from this frozen place, these silent ghosts – breaking out of the returning circle – seems to me a real and difficult journey.

Charlotte Gann