Blow This, Anna-May Laugher
Flarestack Poets, 2018 £6.00
A voice for the small creatures
Anna-May Laugher’s pamphlet is dedicated to her daughter who died. So it is with that in mind that one begins ‘Absolute certainty regarding a vacated bedroom’, which is about the absences that hold the memory of a person. The writer determines ‘I know I must make this room other.’ However, the tone is so spare that one wonders whether the narrator believes it:
Once I’ve done so,
I can know the place
with neither scent nor stain,
think nothing of that room again.
Can we really rearrange spaces to eradicate loss?
This melancholy tone runs throughout many of the poems. There is a sense of folklore and the uncanny, such as in ‘Selkie’ and ‘House Share’, which is populated with spiders, deformed mice, moths and ladybirds. In ‘House Share’, the narrator asks ‘How small should creatures be to die ignored?’. This seems to be the poet’s central question.
Laugher depicts other vulnerable characters too. In ‘Our House’, we watch, with dreadful poignancy, as children cope when their erratic mother abandons them:
The meter click
announced the dark of unpaid bills.
The urgency of the poems gathers pace: a woman trapped in sexual exploitation (‘Re-cycled’), her waxen shape remoulded again and again; a family in a war-torn city; a refugee arriving to little welcome:
Post-traumatic lettered snow,
which could not hold a story or a word,
but fell in floats between the bodies of the lost.
A number of poems have taken inspiration from visual art, and Laugher’s language is similarly physical with descriptions of pelts, meat and muscle. The details are bare and often heart-breaking. Laugher is deft at leaving the audience to read between the lines, to devastating effect. These are calls to see the vulnerable, with little resolution other than having their experience acknowledged. None are too small to be beyond the poet’s notice.
All the small things
The thing I love about great poetry is the writer’s ability to raise the mundane, the familiar, and deftly draw out a new, enduring meaning.
Ann-Marie Laugher views the world with an acute eye. She really notices things, she draws attention to detail cleverly, concisely — and through those observations, she bids you to step into her often dark and difficult world.
In ‘Absolute certainty regarding a vacated bedroom’, Laugher portrays her grief for her lost daughter, to whom this pamphlet is dedicated, in a simple description of the physical changes that occur within a room.
By the scent of her perfume I knew the room.
I know it now by the lack.
In the removal of ‘footless socks, / the mouldy coffee cups’, the poet strips away painful reminders until she can ‘think nothing of that room again’.
Can all traces of a person be eliminated so easily? I doubt she thinks so for a minute. Like the perfume, the poem lingers on.
Laugher creates a beautiful dozy portrait in ‘House Share’ through similarly precise observations:
The dormitory of ladybirds who sleep behind the blinds dream on.
False widow spiders tweak their sheets of silk.
I’m there, I can see them. I can feel the silence, the atmosphere. I’m moved when in that quiet moment, she asks:
How small should creatures be to die ignored? What is the cut-off point in size? I’d like to know if there’s no need to cry.
This poem is intricate and dainty with its minute observations of fauna in the house. The final statement, ‘You have the strangest definition of living by yourself’, makes me question whether I should treat my own crane flies and spiders not as intruders, but company. Here, they are the focus of Laugher’s poignant scene — it’s around these creatures which her subjects live, love and lose.
For me, the power of this pamphlet is in those small, intimate and seemingly insignificant details. These are what makes Anna-May Laugher’s poetry emotive and rich with meaning.