Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Scar, Carrie EtterShearman style cover in three bands. The top third and bottom third are white. The middle band is in full colour and shows a landscape with golden fields and a dark grey sky with tornado approaching. The author's name, right justified in white and lower case, is superimposed on a wide dark blue border at the bottom of the picture. The blue of that border is used for the title which is left justified in very large lower case in the top of the white bottom third. I hope this makes sense!

Shearsman Books, 2016  £6.50

I spy with my little ‘I’

Here you have one poem, one pamphlet. When I think of such a phenomenon I imagine one l  o  n  g poem. Brace yourself.

But this is the perfect vehicle for a piece that extends over eighteen pages without filling any of them. It is light, airy reading – heavy only on the heart. It compels, with delicacy and skill. You find yourself wanting to know – like a short story – what happens next.

I love the way the poet plays with the ‘I’ of the poem, which is a million miles from the usual lyric ‘I’ (‘as I draw the curtains, I look out and think of spring’). Not that ‘I’ is not Carrie Etter. But that sense of herself morphs and reaches out. You become part of her first person-ness, not watching but inhabiting. So you are ‘feline slink’ and ‘butterfly shiver’ and ‘fish glide’. Your home town may be called ‘Normal’ (a real place – and the poet’s former home) but your I/eye is global. Are you the cicada, the cow or the ‘field-mouse scrabbling’? You could be cardinal or goldfinch, or ‘at times more modest / house wren or sparrow’. Then, of a sudden, you are Carrie Etter as a child – a real memory of an Illinois blizzard and her mother somewhere out in it:

My father grows smaller—
can one grow—yes, he grows—smaller,
he sweats, he calls again, he begs,
he says she was going to Zayre’s, he says

What a wonderful moment there, in the middle of such intensity, that the poet pauses to wonder at the weirdness of the word ‘grows’ – at the way getting smaller can somehow be bigger. You have to trust a poet who can do this while merely on her way to somewhere else.

And where does she go with this? Through animal life, family life, the children who are simply ‘balls of skin and bone’, through blizzard and tornado, through the changing climate and growing risk of disaster for all life forms, to ... what? You need to read it. The end is awful, and it is humbling.

Helena Nelson