Invisibility for Beginners, Helen Pizzey
Cinnamon Press, 2018 £4.99
Holding up a mirror
For a pamphlet with ‘invisibility’ in its title, it seems to me fascinating that Helen Pizzey’s poems so often focus on what is seen. She uses strong visual images but also weaves many references to eyes and mirrors into the poems.
In ‘Calving’ a shocked child ‘sees a gargoyle head’ of a calf being born. In ‘Familiar’, a partner is seen as ‘a shadow-boxing male’ (leveret) with ‘a slit gaze’:
your eyes gleaming solstice
An interesting mix of prose poems weaves through this pamphlet. In ‘This is My Room’, the poet muses on ‘Things in my room, I see them or I don’t’ and confides:
my skin hasn’t told me who I am; my eyes in the mirror still ask.
I particularly enjoyed ‘Still life’ where she plays on the idea of a painting in the title, but takes us into the life of a rough sleeper. She creates a double image:
in the tilt of a pear
against its hip-joined shadow
Pizzey makes visual links to film. ‘Say Yes’ invokes ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ — contrasting the scene of Hugh Grant’s non-marriage proposal with a Welsh Hill farmer commenting on the wisdom of getting hitched, while dealing with a sheep in labour. In ‘Red Rag’, she describes the Andalusian landscape as ‘outcrops clad in sage stubble like Clint Eastwood’s chin’.
‘Alice at 90’ evokes an elderly woman for whom making sense of what she sees is complicated: taking pills causes her to ‘shrink inside mirrors’. In ‘Healer’, Pizzey describes a blind man mending nets ‘their shadows latticing spent retinas.’
The penultimate poem ‘Your Mind’ uses the extended metaphor of a goldfish to describe the mind. I could relate to that fish in its ‘lonely bulbous window’: the only time I ever looked after one, it died. I am still haunted by ‘its dull listless eyes’.
And the title poem ‘Invisibility for Beginners’ suggests how to be invisible, ending ‘I look forward to not seeing you soon’. I look forward to the opposite: seeing a lot more poetry from Helen Pizzey.