Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Pale cover with shooting white light across itAs Pure as Coal Dust, Alison Dunhill

SurVision Books, 2021   £6.99

Colour and texture

Alison Dunhill was the winner of the James Tate Poetry Prize 2020 with this richly-patterned pamphlet. I particularly enjoyed the colours of South America in the first few poems. Often the poet uses colour alongside striking imagery which brings texture to her work.

In ‘Fish Pool with White Columns’, one of several poems featuring ‘white’, the whiteness of the heron is enhanced by the image of the ‘ampersand’:

It’s afternoon at the mountain fazenda and the white heron loops and
curves its muscled neck into ampersand, breaking the green river’s
            surface with a sloped beak.

In ‘Accident’ the poet suffers an accident on Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro and she seems to be absorbed into the colour red:

I bleed into the mountain, I am wearing red silk. I can’t see the blood at
the back.

There is an initial lyrical description of clouds in the second section of ‘Cloud Construction’:

White pillars, gold pillars, wild, flying, multi-textile, green
         pillars.

This contrasts with the lines at the end of the poem:

duller brass, matt zinc, cheap tin glints like silver — silver-
              coated plastic.

Alison Dunhill uses colour simply but very effectively. The depth of colour in ‘Gradients’ seems to me emphasised by the starkness of the language:

In white sun
those slate crags shine black,
crack a sky of crying blue.

And the light-touch imagery in the rather mystical and melancholy ‘Fountain’ drew me in:

Crescent smiles, spun-gold eyes of friends,
the colours of life condensed for keeping.

‘Only Opera’, a prose poem, opens with a beautiful description, creating the setting for listening to Tosca while picnicking on the grass:

I wear my emerald green dress that evening. Clouds curl pink above
Kenwood House’s Palladian cream.

To close, I’ll highlight the way the image of milk (white) works with the colour blue in describing the sea in ‘Fifteen Hours in Sifnos’: ‘The sea laps milk and blue in and away’. I feel this as well as see it. Dunhill has a real talent for evocation through her skilful use of colour and imagery.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad