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Stroking Cerberus, Jacqueline Haskell

Myriad Editions, 2020   £5.00

Breaking boundaries

Jacqueline Haskell investigates the crossover between life and death in this collection. I was particularly struck by her varied use of form, how she uses this to express emotion, particularly anxiety and a sense of loss.

The opening poem ‘Static’ is full of questions, broken rhythm, white space, dashes, asides and repetition. Haskell creates gaps in the text to mirror the words ‘you leave a gap’. She repeats this broken form and the same words in ‘Relying on the Dead for Company’ where we ‘become acquainted with the silence’; the poem ends with ‘RSVP’ hanging hopefully in a sea of white space.

The poem ‘Isthmus’ conjures a spirit of presence and absence which inhabits the lines set against the margin. The indented lines, in contrast, focus on ‘real’ descriptive details. The positioning of ‘in’ mid page by itself cleverly captures a sense of breath.

The first part of the sequence ‘Passing Place’ has narrative tercets; the next two parts are more impressionistic with short and long line lengths. As it breaks up, the poem becomes more personal and specific:

My body open, my fingers curling on the clinic’s
flannel bedsheet,

one hand fearing rain.

This final line of the poem is starkly short and set apart, hinting at an unwelcome end.

In her last poem ‘Visual Purple’, Haskell creates attempted dialogue with questions and answers. This, with the repetition of ‘remember’, captures loss of memory and loss of a loved one. The line spacing gives a feeling of the passing of time. The ‘unexpected gust of ectoplasm’ suggests another world not quite in reach.

‘Of what am I afraid?’
[   ]
That there is nothing out there.
That there is everything out there.

These poems skilfully explore boundaries which we will all touch, whether through loss or when our own time comes.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad

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