Bird Cherry, Roshni Gallagher
Verve Poetry Press, 2023 £7.99
Sanctuary in a natural image
The first poem in this collection seems to me to take its readers straight from strong emotion into nature. In this case, that shift is physically enacted. Here are the opening two lines of ‘April River’:
That morning I said too much —
it felt like stumbling out into the garden at night
What an interesting place to open: this feeling ‘like’ stumbling from morning outside and into night.
This seems to me a recurring theme or impulse of the writing: a wish to lose or soothe oneself in the natural world, or in images taken from it.
There’s something unifying and strengthening about this. ‘In the river I found every river / I’d ever touched.’ This seems to be, perhaps, what lies behind the wish: that fragmentation, confusion, mess, loss — all can be drawn together somehow if we go down deep to the bed or roots. And there is disjunction to be navigated. This is from ‘The Whitby’:
We watch the sea birds being swept by the wind
and I try to tell you about all my life you’ve missed.
Or this, from ‘My Head is Full of Goat’:
Isn’t it enough to say
that I’m wading through the world
and I’m soaked to the bone?
Yes, I want to respond as a reader, it is enough.
The poet places domestic and natural, internal and external, side by side and so in relation to each other. As she puts it in ‘Whale Song’, [I’m] ‘up to my knees in seawater or pulling up a chair at the kitchen table.’ I like these juxtapositions.
There are glimpses of the human story behind the poems. A lost grandmother, an ‘othering’, two distant cultures meeting or missing each other. Details aren’t filled in fully, but a sense of searching, longing, confusion and resilience comes through very clearly to me.
In ‘I’ve Been Hiding’, the poet writes: ‘I’ve been hiding — // out in the hush and howl. / Deep in the splintering sea.’ And, for me, I think that is what happens in these poems themselves: a hiding out, biding time, tenderly — in language, poem, sequence. And in rich, strong imagery.