Osteology, Lizzi Hawkins
Smith/Doorstop Books, 2018 £5.00
Beyond the exact
The first striking thing about this pamphlet is how convincingly and exactly it conveys a place and a time of life.
The narrator is a young adult. She lives sometimes with her parents, sometimes independently. She can call young men on a construction site ‘boys’ without it being condescending. All the poems bar one are unmistakably set in an England of snow and mountains, buses and engineering projects. For example, ‘Wharfe Valley:
Gritters are leaving their trails in the road every evening,
like a message to the cold, and coming down through the valley
you can see the grey slice of the Wharfe, tight and waiting
for the push into ice.
‘Train’ is the most complete expression of both time of life and place, with the narrator a sexually-active adult who still sometimes wants to ‘go back to my parents’ house’:
I haven’t been home in a while now. I miss
my bedsheets, the way light pools
behind my curtains as if it is waiting to touch me.
I know you’ve been waiting to touch me
but I’ve been ignoring your phone calls and text messages,
I’ve been waiting to touch someone else, I don’t know if you’re aware.
But beyond the pleasure of recognition, the poems offer the pleasure of complication. They describe the landscape in human terms and vice versa. People change the landscape with drills and construction projects, but the landscape changes the people too.
In ‘Kissing the geographer’, ‘The geographer would comb my hair out / and wade in it like water’.’ In ‘Train’, Bradford is ‘a steely husband’. ‘Calcium’ considers the element in both human and landscape forms.
There are several poems in which snow seems to have a consciousness, and the last poem in the pamphlet (‘Wharfe Valley’) compellingly describes a particular snowy landscape, before ending with an invitation to the snow, which to me expresses beautifully the high emotion of young adulthood:
We have started leaving our doors open in hopes
the snowdrifts will not be able to resist us.
We are all waiting for the cold to close its open fist.