Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Weeding, Jess McKinney

Hazel Press, 2021    £10.00

Green, how I want you

I was impressed by the elegant look of Jess McKinney’s debut pamphlet, and by its literal and figurative ‘greenness’. Published by the environmentally positive Hazel Press, it has a subtle olive cover. The typeface is ‘Mrs Eaves’, which has delicate ligatures between certain letters, reminiscent to me of vines. The poems are shot through with explicit and implicit references to green.

Nature’s greens and blues are, of course, known to soothe our spirits, and the opening poem, ‘Asleep on the wing’, establishes the pamphlet’s dream-like mood:

I had a dream someone told me swifts could perceive
37 more shades of blue than the average human.
[…]
It’s true, all summer I have been sitting around
blowing small insects from my limbs, with a hasty retreat
that is the closest I will come to their flight.

And the poem ‘Sea’ begins:

In most dreams I wake up here, on the edge of green with
shale in my pockets.

Almost half of the poems are prose poems. Some are drifting meditations on specific shades of green, and several have a quietly erotic undercurrent, as here, in ‘The good kind of green’ (after Frederico Garcia Lorca):

Your hand creeping up the inner seam
of my wide legged slacks. […]
Verde, que te quiero verde. You wake
to go quietly. Your shadow hangs hungry
in the doorway. Known from the inside.

Jess McKinney’s poems cover lot of ground (as weeds or wildflowers will). Some are inspired by writers (Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion), and several by artists and photographers (William Morris, Ansel Adams, Nan Goldin). There’s a poem about Derek Jarman’s garden. Some poems are about specific wild plants and some reference folklore. And there’s more…

Reading this pamphlet is like spending a long, lazy afternoon in a garden, chatting to a clever and interesting friend. I could have done with some footnotes or an appendix, and so was very pleased to find that there are some useful notes on the poems on the publisher’s website.

Annie Fisher