Honeycomb, M. R. Peacocke
HappenStance, 2018 £5.00
What I like best about these poems is that they surprise me. By which I mean, they delight me — by confounding my expectations, at the same time as resoundingly confirming what I know to be true. They’re also luminous, while glinting with irreverent humour.
In the first poem, ‘Eastham Street’, at a certain hour (when the ‘chip shop is closing’) old women gather at ‘the top of the street’: ‘Lightly the northwest wind brooms aside / trash of clouds and words.’ How I love that echoing, contrasting, perfectly matched ‘clouds and words’.
Here’s an ‘Afternoon’ late in life:
A wakeless lull that’s less than sleep
brims in her eyes and palms and lap.
Something is finished. Nothing’s done.
A lapse, a loss, a truce, a peace.
This is what this poet does. Again and again I recognise the right word, the right rhythm, the right rhyme and meaning delivered together in a way that’s elucidating, confirming, stimulating and satisfying, at the same time as surprising! All these things — which, for me, inseparably equal the project of poetry.
‘What shall we do about the mess?’ she asks, with perfect poise in ‘Shall we dance?’.
The title poem, ‘Honeycomb’, is extraordinary — so many of these poems are. ‘How nimble the old are’, it starts; and then, a little further in, this idea is introduced: ‘how I love anything that hesitates — pauses — / sticks with me a minute’.
What an interesting, amazing picture is being built in my mind. Of this character — old person, very light, and filled with light — flying past, as on we all hurtle. Here’s the last verse:
I’ve gathered a little parchment leaf.
It settled against my cheek as damp and cool
as a child’s kiss. We have happened
together. We slip away.
This is what happens to us all. It’s all that can happen between us: to coincide for a while, touching. How extraordinary that this poet has captured this in this poem, which then stuck with me a minute, as we spun past.
In this collection, with its theme of age and aging, Meg Peacocke’s poems describe coming to terms with the many forms of loss that arise as a result of living into one’s ninth decade. These include the loss of physical and mental abilities, of purpose and performance, and of freedom and independence, but possibly the most difficult of all losses the poet has to face is the loss of people.
In the poem ‘Late’ she compares the time she may have left with a loved one with the suddenness and seemingly unstoppable onset of a winter thaw:
and I ran to the high field
clumsily as a pregnant woman
to tread our names in blemished
brilliant drifts; because the time we have
is shrinking away like snow.
In ‘Taking Leave’ she recognises that others will share this experience and like her, will never be truly prepared:
he wrote, beyond speech,
the familiar hand grown sketchy,
I didn’t know you were going so soon
And it’s like that, people leave
sooner than they thought
sooner than they knew, and things
don’t wait, and a lifetime
isn’t enough to recover the words,
uncover, discover the words.
This last stanza finds the poet bereft, possibly wanting to go back to put things right, to say the things she could have said, or to find new things to say, or just to say goodbye properly.
This sense of dismay reappears in ‘What the Bird Said’:
A loss, a death, was stuck
hard as a gall in my throat.
I was foolish for consolation,
wanting a god to be angry with.
It’s winter and the poet is in the garden with a robin who ‘turned the puff of himself / towards me’ and ‘shook out tremors of music’. The robin’s breast changes colour with the light, he arrives in the poem with a ‘Flick of a shadow’ and in his vital presence she can’t remain angry or upset. He is there along with the natural decay of a winter garden. Like the poet we can choose to accept that this is how it is.
(Barbara Davey, Julia Prescott, Peter Jarvis, Anna Crowe, Robin MacKenzie, Helen Nicholson, Lindsay Macgregor and Jenny Elliott)