The Temperature of Blue, Mandy Macdonald
Blue Salt Collective, 2020 £8.00
The light forgives
‘The light forgives nothing’ according to the first poem in Mandy Macdonald’s pamphlet. Nevertheless — in a collection filled with discussions of war, death, marital breakdown, ageing and loss — it’s the poet’s use of light which brings these topics into the open and offers redemption and beauty as it does so; and it is light which allows Macdonald to speak of darkness.
In ‘Father’s Day’, Macdonald uses the interplay of brightness and shade as representations of the speaker’s relationship with her father. Her father’s bedroom is ‘chocolate dark’ with ‘summer heat / eating what llight there is.’ Light on the ‘veranda’ outside the bedroom takes on a violent aspect: it becomes a ‘sword of sunlight’ which ‘slices’ and ‘savages’. Radiance and its absence are the vehicles through which Macdonald can conjure an atmosphere of oppression.
Several poems about an ailing marriage draw on a similar technique. In ‘A wedding gift’, for instance, ‘an iron bedstead’ becomes an object of bouncing reflections. Light, though never explicitly mentioned, is present in the ‘shining’ ‘coldness’ of the gifted bedstead, the speaker’s ‘tears’, and the ‘blue china rim’ of the ‘sky’.
Elsewhere, light is more solacing. ‘San Salvador, 15 December 1990’ is cut through with brightness whose significance shifts as the poem progresses. From the bright flashes of ‘gunfire’, to the ‘emergency generator’ which ‘lights up the embassy compound like a Christmas tree’, it finally settles in the ‘bright-green buds’ of the capers in the speaker’s meal. While it might be indicative of danger at the start, by the end of the poem light is a note of hope: ‘under gunship fire [...] / green flowers to eat.’
Poems such as ‘rippleshimmer’ speak of the ‘sun’s watermap’, creating a glistening scene in which ‘wading birds’ ‘walk hesitantly’ ‘like love’. In ‘Instructions for my funeral’, light is equally symbolic of hope. In the face of death, the speaker asks that ‘music be brilliant’ — ‘let it coruscate, / crackle upwards like fireworks.’
The Temperature of Blue is wide-ranging in its themes and idea. Tying it together are strands of light illuminating its thoughtful, complex discussions of human experience.