do not be lulled by the dainty starlike blossom, Rachael Matthews
The Emma Press, 2021 £6.50
There’s not much I like more when reading poetry than the feeling of satisfaction that I’ve received a subtle, layered communication. This happens a lot as I read Rachael Matthews’ marvellously-titled pamphlet.
There’s something for me in how she builds layers of meaning. And she doesn’t lose me — because she keeps her language plain, and open, and her poems spare and sparsely punctuated. At the same time, they’re fantastically moving: in both senses. So much ground is covered in the space of this short collection, as the ‘psychoanalyst poet’ brings order to chaos, to ‘shame and rage’.
I won’t forget this, from ‘Ghazal: the sea’:
The fucking sea, she would say, cold and grey and endless,
meaning her marriage not the sea.
Different poems have different patterning, as she moulds form to subject. ‘Swimming pool’ has kids coping one summer. Each is introduced quietly: ‘Julie whose made-up mum went out at midnight’; ‘Gail / who’d just got new parents and a bike’; ‘Jason whose dad had been gone since Christmas’.
Or this, from ‘recovery’ — depicting a partner texting:
your words allruntogether
i am listening to johnnycash you will say
or iambakingbread, comehomenow
I like how the poet lays down her complex links of thought, like train-track. (Her line endings invariably help, not least as some poems are or contain long, developing, single sentences.) All I have to do is follow — to arrive in the satisfying stations of her conclusions. Take this, the close to ‘Daffodils’:
I’m busy not telling her the damage
is almost undone, that I’m ready for mothering myself
when there’s a crack — a bud has split its onionskin dress
and I shudder like an eavesdropper, sick with luck.
And so this breath-taking collection travels from difficult beginnings to immense, quiet love poems like ‘settled’, which I found wonderful:
before towing your soft cloak
along the hall
to the next room
where you sit
in the middle of the floor
in the middle of the day
laughing at an old cartoon
with our atmosphere
spread around you
like a monument