Dear Friend(s) — Jeffery Sugarman
The Emma Press, 2019 £6.50
This is a richly sensuous pamphlet, melding the texture of the moment with human (often physical) relationships, so let’s start with the numerous named flowers, and how they give colour and richness to the poems.
In the opening pages we meet ‘brilliant orange lilies’, ‘a bed of blue plumbago’, ‘fire red geraniums’, ‘red-orange tulips’, along with orange blossom, lavender, iris, jasmine, pelargoniums and a voluptuous sprawl of unnamed but rampant vegetation. Sugarman is an American (from Florida), and here are the vibrant gardens he grew up with.
We take childhood for granted: for each of us our childhood is normality. For Sugarman, this lush vegetation may have been an escape from ‘all the sadness of the house’, until adulthood allowed space for more satisfying relationships, but it brings a visual brilliance that sets the tone for the whole collection.
Orchids appear in the final poem, ‘Ascent to Orchids in the Morning’. That world of childhood? Gone. This is England, happily married, the poet kissing goodbye to his English husband leaving for work, and then relishing the silence and space and light of the temporarily empty house.
There’s a top-lit bathroom, high up, with its view to the sky —‘all lit up with a milky sun’, but also a place to watch the stars at night — it holds pots of orchids. Not elegantly-poised, fresh-from-the-florist orchids, but those leftover plants, the ones that have finished flowering, perfection gone. You know what they look like. But this is a a good day — and look —
A dozen of them. They’ve come back,
not perfectly or without exception, but new leaves
and flower stalks beneath, just sprouting,
easily mistaken for aerial roots.
They’ve been nurtured, given time and warmth, allowed to develop again. The weather outside might be standing in for previous troubles, unspecified, but both orchids and poet have come through —
last night howling in a gale: hell laying claim
to the morning. But the morning, it’s mine,
and I can take a bath with orchids.
It’s a love poem to pleasure and all that the flowers represent.
D A Prince