From The Wonder Book of Would You Believe It?, Jane McKieBook jacket is bright pink. Title top quarter, and the title inside the title is italicised -- 'From' is not. Then a set of black and white images of strange things, angels and strange creatures. Below that POEMS in very small caps and at the very bottom the name of the author in lower case but bigger.

Mariscat Press, 2016   £6.00


Jane McKie looks at things very closely in these poems – creature life, and human. And by looking with such intensity she sees things with a strange magnified clarity. Not least, vulnerability.

Here’s ‘Strange Ears and What They Hear’:

A bat’s sycamore seed-shaped ears
      are so sensitive

they must ache for the void, pound
      with violent need

The bat suffers ‘the bruising roar of life’. And in McKie’s heightened world, we are not so dissimilar. Many mentions of human are of the vulnerable, yearning, lonely – ‘a bullied child’ (‘The Strength of Plants’), ‘a barren woman’ (‘An Ant’s Strange Guest’).

The intersection between human and natural is explored from unexpected angles and – in this hinterland populated by McKie’s imagery – what my attention is most drawn to is bodily sensation. In ‘Nightmare Denizens of an Unexplored World’, a girl sinks toes into sand, puts a dead crab ‘on her tongue’: ‘It tastes of salt and the newly greased hairs / of a cello’s bow.’ Lovers touchdown from a flight, ‘runway puddles jump with shimmering / insect wings – in each dancing drop, pipette-shaped bodies’ (‘Wonderful Flights’).

‘Not Like Us’ brings these two worlds into immediate parallel. Someone asks ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ The poem leads, through speculation – ‘is it like nestling / in a nook of velvet with a welter / of siblings?’ – into the idea that it’s just as hard to imagine ourselves bat, as to imagine ourselves under the skin of another person:

Batness is as impossible to name
as what it is to be the friend I love –
the one who, unaware of my feelings,
leans in drunkenly at a party

There’s a compassion, I think, that comes through in these poems. Jane McKie ‘leans in’ herself – to observe this world up close, with all its ‘Curious Ways of Breathing’, and ‘Creatures That Emit ‘Cold’ Light’ – and, by so doing, allows her reader, too, to be that bit more human.

Charlotte Gann