Collision, Claire Walker
Against The Grain Poetry Press, 2019 £6.00
Hands and collisions
We tend to think of collisions as big moments. There’s noise, and things get broken or changed. A collision between cars, for example, tends to change things for both the drivers and the cars. The Large Hadron Collider is currently doing its thing beneath Cerne, and will eventually change our understanding of — well — everything.
However, clapping could be considered a smaller, and perhaps more enjoyable form of collision. And quite frankly, hands are all over the pages of this collection, either through explicit or implicit references. The explicit outweigh the implicit by a ratio of four to ten, but it’s what’s implied that I’d like to focus on.
In ‘Like a Lover’ we hear about the other woman who ‘pools around their bodies, / works their ring fingers free of knots’. In the following poem, ‘A Tattooist’s Mistake’, the reference is subtle — ‘supple in the twist of your arm’ — but arguably the whole poem is ruled by hands. What else does a tattooist use, apart from a needle?
In ‘Jet’, talk is of ‘So much mourning’ and the way grief can stay with us. ‘We fold it into our rosaries, / each bead a black prayer / shovelled through aching fingers’. There’s also a bonus mention of wrists later.
The final implicit mention is in the title poem where a boat has been abandoned after an accident. The protagonists ‘reach for splintered oars’, and later on for one another (blame is being considered):
Neither of us mentions our clumsiness
when we reach for each other in the dark;
When we can’t meet each other’s eyes
in the stumble of morning.
And in a very different poem about the fossil collector, Mary Anning, these lines appear:
I gather the coast; hidden art waits
for my fingers to unfold rocks.
Every syllable of those lines feels to me like part of the pamphlet’s mission statement.
I suggest you put your hands together, both in the air and in your pockets, for this collection.
Floundering in the currents
This pamphlet tell a delicate tale of a relationship’s tidal sway, summed up in the title poem ‘Collision’. The poems are run through with a thread of sea-based images. Each has the effect of allowing the reader to feel the pull and ebb of tides, the movement of desire and yearning.
In ‘Like a Lover’ the sea seduces humans and they ‘go running, / barefoot across hot shingle’ towards her call. She ‘whispers in waves’ and ‘pools around their bodies’. We are caught in the motion of the sea where we ‘float weightless’.
The reader already mesmerised by such evocative language, ’His Sweater’ extends the metaphor. The garment is described ‘as blue as his eyes, blue as the sea’. Sensuality spills from lines such as
in the Aran twists;
the diamond stripe of his chest.
Love is implied as strong and permanent in the line: ‘This stitch is stronger than the sea wall.’
However, ambivalence enters in ‘How Will We Read The Maps’. The narrator is found dealing with her lover’s desire to travel: ‘nautical miles sailed will swirl / beneath his thumbprints’.
He will signpost markers on his body
where waves swarmed over, battered the hull.
Her insistence on home in a repeated ‘here, here, here’ is movingly desperate.
Why such intensity? ‘Pisces’ looks back to the poet’s origin — invoking the fragility of her mother’s pregnancies and the narrator’s birth, enhancing the sense of vulnerability underwritten by the sea’s power:
Then, one soft March I swam
against history, made the coast.
These lines sharpen the intensity of the adults’ coupling.
Despite such hope, the poem ‘Collison’ explores difficulties in the blossoming relationship, in the starting over in ‘our broken boat’, the reaching out for ‘splintered oars’. It speaks of a wreck, a complete running aground, almost ‘pretty in its salt and grit.’
The reader is steeped in the salt and tides of this pamphlet, a compelling and vibrant experience.