Patience, Nina Lewis
V. Press, 2019 £6.50
A call to the light
On first read, this work by Nina Lewis may seem relentless in its depressive subject matter. But what it is doing is dealing head-on with weighty issues. While it acknowledges how extremely difficult life can be, still it pushes against its darkness.
The author inhabits various characters, or looks at painful human issues from various perspectives. Introspection, ill health, the regrettable past, aging, relationships, grief, loss/absence, war, dying, passion, naivete — all are explored in these poems. Constant though, whether referred to or merely implied, is resilience — a look to what sustains us, or will come beyond suffering.
Shadows, and the threat of the unknown, are framed but contained in ‘The Dark House’, and in ‘A Diary Without Dates’:
She thinks about how time here
is dislocated, at any given moment
the next stage of convalescence may begin.
Even in ‘Sorrow’, where the speaker has left it ‘too late to hear / your voice again’, winter represents human grief. And seasons are cyclical — winter always followed by spring.
Titles are often important in bringing closely observed scenarios to the universal, as in ‘The World at the End of the Bed’. The same is true of final lines — such as ‘Leaves in her hands’, from ‘Tasseomancy’.
At the same time, the author allows for ambiguity in the reader’s interpretation of scenarios viewed at close quarters. Both the Nazi symbolism of ‘The Unfading Cornflower’ and ‘my imaginary bow’ (from ‘Half-conversations’) leave room for speculation on the speaker’s perspective.
Ultimately though, this collection actively encourages our seeing beyond the harrowing experiences that being human entails. Even the ‘twelve square metres / [ … ] of bed and wall’ are a ‘haven’ because the speaker has lived, and holds that life within it. It affirms her identity; she is able to
Reach into the frame and pull a flower;
stamens leave an oily trace
on my skin, iridescent trails highlight my fingerprints.
This is from a poem whose title exhorts us to ‘Keep the Light’. And I feel I will recall Nina Lewis’ Patience in those darkest moments.