The Wild Gods, Malene Engelund
Valley Press, 2016 £6.99
Poems that circle
Perhaps my personal favourite poetry collections are those where a poet is visibly revisiting and revisiting a theme or issue or atmosphere they can’t let go of. Like a bird circling, diving, retreating and circling once more.
Malene Engelund’s The Wild Gods is one such. Reading it is like spending time quietly alongside someone who’s preoccupied – and, in this instance, ‘mining darkness’.
This beautiful production — a pamphlet like a small book, with a spine and handsome cover – has a few insistent, recurring themes. There’s a lot of winter and cold within its pages, for example; and a lack of much-missed and yearned-for colour (indeed, there are artists urgently painting). There’s a lake, and drownings (or a drowning of a boy). There’s loss, a lost boy, an unborn child, and a sense of halting development – attempts at moving on. And there are birds circling.
I find the work moving. And the poems themselves often tackle the difficulty of thus returning. Take this, for instance, in ‘After Georgia O’Keeffe’, where again there’s a lost boy and a lake:
That’s how I’ve seen him;
an existence who slips through my hands
when I bring him towards me.
Or: ‘how we always come back / to the thoughts we don’t declare’ (‘Jakob’). This is a poem which holds an image I won’t forget, of ‘the quiet boy a year above’, ‘the globed spectacles framing your eyes / closed to the black water, a silent O caught in your mouth.’
One poem, ‘(untitled)’, has an almost pre-verbal quality, or perhaps beyond words:
that night he so cold
he all wet from water
i fold my thighs over his hands
and be quiet how he like me
that he come back to me again
that he come back
This is a kind of dream-speak, something deeper and more instinctual than dialogue. But it carries immense conviction. And moving forward from this frozen place, these silent ghosts – breaking out of the returning circle – seems to me a real and difficult journey.