Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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The Saltwater Diaries, Sue BurgeThe whole jacket is filled with a monochrome photograph of the sea shore, with sand, rocks, the sea and in the distance a hilly promontory. The title and author's name are both centred in large white italic/calligraphic font, the title being bang in the centre, the author's name in the bottom quarter.

The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020  £9.53 from the author, including postage

Treading carefully

In the closing stanza of ‘Sea Glass’ the narrator says:

Sea glass, you hold the answers to unasked questions
in your salty heart. I want to cleave you, hang you
from my ears, catch the chink of your pasts as I turn my head.

And leaving aside plural pasts (which I suspect we all have) but staying with saltiness, in ‘Lure’ the question raised is:

Sometimes I wonder if it’s you
calling me, your saltiness

leaving tidemarks on my skin.
Or is it the sea who wants me

to put on my tail, slice open
my fins, slide back in?

No answer is given. In fact, throughout this collection, questions are gently but clearly asked, but not always answered in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ terms.

For example, ‘She / thinks about the mammoth found there. Did it die upright / in a Pompeiian rush of mud and tide? (‘Window’). And in ‘What is it about trees that makes me want to cry’, the narrator says:

At night I wear my crown of thorn, dream
of chainsaws and axes, of muntjac sniffing
at trunkless trees. I want to ask the trees
if they are afraid of the dark.

What's wonderful about so many of these questions is that — while they are perhaps unanswerable in absolute terms — they are utterly delicious to ponder, an absolute joy.

In the closing poem, the narrator shares the following thought:

                                                                    There
will never be more of us above the ground in this shifting
airiness than the millennia of crowded dead below, so I
tread carefully, wonder who is there with their cells sliding
and merging in the dampness under my sandless soles.

Sue Burge’s willingness and ability to tread carefully is the skill … the gift… the blessing … that lies at the heart of these thought-provoking poems. 

Sue Butler