Trial by Scar, Deborah Turnbull
Eyewear Publishing, Lorgnette Series, 2017
Take a metaphor and run
I like a poet who can take a metaphor and run with it. But even that statement is a metaphor, and it doesn’t capture the subtlety I have in mind. There’s a way of taking a metaphor, or an idea that could be a metaphor, that leads to long thought about the sense in which that metaphor might be read.
The poem ‘Impact’ in this collection is prefaced by a quotation from Nigel Farage (‘The EU’s finished, the EU is dead.’) In fact, without this epigraph, the rest of the poem could be read literally. It describes the impact of a bullet: ‘Entry wounds are clean and tidy’, and goes on to reflect that ‘There must be a high chance of surviving / such a minuscule hole in the head’. The poem tidies up the wound: ‘Barely any mess made, barely any blood spilt.’
Then the final stanza that drives the message home. The poet could so easily have begun ‘But’ – but she’s more skilful than that:
It’s the hard exit you’ve got to watch;
the back of the head blown wide,
its mash-for-brains chaos. The spatter.
I relish her ability to make me think, to go over and over what is buried in facile use of language (‘The EU is dead’).
The poem ‘Terms’ picks up a series of words and what they mean: literally. But the heart of the poem is in what is not said. The words are: commute, home, work, tannoy, fatality, track, passenger. Each of these is examined inside a two-line stanza, of which there are seven.
If it is read as a sonnet, the ‘turn’ would come with the explanation of the word ‘track’, though the point where the reader infers what the poem is ‘about’ comes in the preceding couplet:
Fatality, meaning an occurrence of death,
also meaning helplessness in the face of fate.
But the ‘volta’ line (line 9) breaks – in every sense – on the word ‘beaten’:
Track meaning rough path, typically beaten
by use, or constructed.
There is a particular skill in laying down words on the page and allowing the reader to draw her own inferences. This poet has it.