Eleanor J Vale – Think of Something Else
The Garlic Press £5.00
978 0 9927026 94
The art of withholding (Helena Nelson)
These are quiet poems, up to all sorts of secret things. But their secrets are easily accessible. All you have to do is trust the poet and read carefully. She never overstates. These poems are poised, balanced, and delicate.
Often there’s a little twist or counter-twist at the end, a stab of delight (or alarm) when you realise suddenly where the poem has brought you. At other times, the pay-off is in what’s not said. So there are surprises here, all kinds. The surface is quiet but the depths draw you in.
For example, there’s ‘Journey’ – one of my favourites and a poem I will not forget. ‘It was one of those stop-start stop-start journeys’ – a familiar ride in a car, the sort of ride we all recognise with ‘diversions temporary lights and single-file traffic’. Nowhere in the poem does the poet tell us the destination. It seems such an ordinary journey, But by the end you realise, perhaps with a little prick of tears, precisely where you were bound. You had no idea – and then suddenly you know all. It’s a poem that – among other things – teaches you to pay attention.
And you know, at each stage of every poem, that in the best sense the details are true. that you’ve met real people here. That the friend whose husband is ‘just / back from the hospital’ really does have ‘Mesothelioma’, an illness his wife can’t ‘get her tongue / round’. That the poet really was in Tesco ‘looking for pest deterrents’. That there are deaths and losses, presences and absences as tangible as existence.
Such a range of emotions here -- sadness, awkwardness, love. And the opening poem is so funny! A whole episode from a family sit-com in only eleven lines, and the more often you read it, the funnier it gets. It’s what she doesn’t tell you that does it. She tells you so much by what she doesn’t say!
Loss and love (Charlotte Gann)
Eleanor J Vale writes quietly and carefully and beautifully clearly. She shows how things have felt through a life – especially the losses, and the love. And she captures a child’s experiences.
I particularly like the long blurty-out lines of the title poem – ‘...My/ handkerchief is huge, I can feel it scrunched up wet in my pocket. It’s / my Dad’s really, and has a big E in the corner…’ – and of ‘The Place on the Hill’ – which is all one sentence:
‘... there she was, just sixteen, coming towards me on all fours with / her hair sticking out like a mad woman, all tangled because she was / on Token Therapy and they’d taken away her brush’.
We’re with this onlooker, absolutely, and feeling all this – the toll of the early loss of a mother. And then comes ‘Journey’, again full of detail, anything to think about something else – ‘because we weren’t talking to each other like we usually did’ – and another big sad shock. But then there’s a generous closing image – of that workman, bowing his head – which lingers.
The poet has a wonderful way through all this of sharing without hammering home her point. She hammers home nothing, yet her communications leave us in no doubt. She shares how it felt.
Further into the book, the Aberfan tragedy is conjured, in the poem ‘At Least’. There is terrible, personal loss here, and ‘Notes’ – which consists of i. to iv. note-like couplets – is a beautiful chronicle in just eight lines of weathering trauma and grief. ‘The sun dragged itself from the east to the west, but the nights / eventually did get shorter…’
Again, the dignity and care and quietness of the work makes it nothing but a gift to the reader. It is a joy too to then arrive at poems like ‘Tree’ and ‘Table’ – and, with them, some peace:
… How’s that, Mum?
he said, and it was all that I wanted.