Driver, Naomi Jaffa

The Garlic Press,  2017  £6.00

The Shadow of Death

The poems here are often very personal, exploring emotional suffering and many difficult issues: separation, love, cruelty, violence, infertility and death. Some of them have startling juxtapositions, where we can clearly see the poet’s mind leaping from idea to idea.

What interests me is the way death is depicted in different ways, some explained and some not. ‘Getting Together’, my favourite poem because of its enigmatic nature, is about ‘the man in the boot of the car routine’. He is tied up and misused. His fate is not spelled out. There is cruelty and jokiness and a surprisingly pleasant and accepting ending — ‘no better way to finish the week’.

In ‘Let’s Go Look at the Dead Pig’, the poet uses going to look with her sister, niece and nephew as a shocking image of death:

And so we cross the street to stare
into the back of the butcher’s van
where a nose-to-tail bisected corpse
swings pinkly on hooks.

In the same poem, she unexpectedly declares a strong love for the children but states it in terms of death (‘even if no one believes you’d rather / die than save your own skin first’) and finishes with a poignant image of absence, her name sitting alone on a line of the family tree, the space below it blank.

A factual approach in ‘Taking Up Our Posts’ has a list of family: the sister, mother, best friend, grandfather, father, all of whom she had been anxious about but who, after all, have managed to cheat death. The line ‘No one knows who will go first, or how’ acts as a pivot before a second list. This describes the deaths of five people, all in tragic situations, a quiet woman, ‘undiscovered for two weeks, / the window dark with flies’ and a friend’s father ‘teeth turned black and gone by Christmas’. In a third list, the poet describes herself as ‘flirting’ with the idea of different methods of suicide, all of which she rejects — with the proviso ‘But not yet’.

Marion Tracy