Testimony, Elizabeth Hare
Wayleave 2019 £5.00
The first time I finished reading Elizabeth Hare’s pamphlet, I found I was holding it to my chest — perhaps the better to absorb it, because her poems introduce us to people who are often at the margins of our awareness.
People she won’t blank. That ‘skinny kid, back of the class / trousers too big, jumper too small’ who identifies with a princess darning giant socks. Or the would-be St George who slays his classmates’ dragons (embodiments of questions like ‘why there’s never money, or enough to eat, / the white stuff in the bathroom no one talks about’) — only to be teased for needing free school dinners. Or the bunch of ‘shipwrecked boys / lost on the desert island of their lives’ making Shakespeare their refuge, despite the naysayers.
Beautifully unembellished poems, the artistry in the carefully made lines isn’t at first apparent. This is a poet less concerned to show off her craft, than to reflect workaday injustices — judiciously. For all their intrinsic (though never saccharine) compassion, punches aren’t pulled. In ‘The Jargon’, with a tightly controlled anger, she makes sure the reader takes the strain with her and the other volunteers at an unnamed shelter:
You don’t have local connections means
you’re a problem they’d like to ignore,
but you’re here, so they’ll give you a label.
Of course, we kind-of-know that the lost, the homeless, the displaced are all around us. Elizabeth Hare’s poems bring the issues to the fore: however much we try to look the other way, we can’t quite. For all that, she knows too, how we
[ ... ] spin through the same universe
together, light years apart.
Her Testimony invites us to meet our fellow travellers. Notice that seeing is a kind of rebellion, a kind of love. See how that feels.