Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Metastatic, Jane LovellThe jacket design is black and white. Approximately one third is a black triangle occupying the right hand corner and stretching up to about an inch from the top. To the left in the bigger white space, the title of the collection is in small black caps justified left and beneath this a thick black line. Below the line the author's name is black lower case. At the bottom of the white area, left corner, is the publisher's black and white logo.

Against the Grain Poetry Press,2018    £5.00

Visual imagery and the natural world

Metastatic is the latest pamphlet from Jane Lovell, the winner of this year’s Wigtown Poetry Competition. She writes about the natural world with a lucid, highly visual style.There’s a freshness in her imagery that’s unusually arresting and thought provoking.

The adjective ‘metastatic’ is most familiar in its medical context, describing the spread of cancer, but it would be a mistake to think that negative thoughts dominate the collection. Rather, it is a celebration of all aspects of the natural world.

In ‘Birdsong’, for example, Lovell conjures an image that links the garden, and the birdsong, with the transience of life:

outside the fallen plum
still survives,
the garden a green cave beneath it.

Later she writes: 

I lie and listen to you breathe,
ragged wings fixed to hollow bones.

But the end of the poem is full of hope, and a celebration of life:

Sometimes it seems it’s just me
and those birds;

all that birdsong, so much life.

In ‘Listen’ we have a very different poem, a love song. The poem opens ‘Your name is on my lips’, then goes on to explore the way love has traversed the world, creating visual scenes through places and experiences (‘It flies through cities finding tracks and lines’). Finally:

It’s on my lips each dawn
when only lamplight finds the thrush’s eye
and chance lies curled and cold below.

Lovell engages through vivid imagery and close observation of the natural world. She has the rare ability to make the reader feel they are there, watching the scene. Her poetry is spare and stripped back, with no unnecessary words to dilute the impact. For her, nature is the vehicle to examine more profound themes about the human condition: life, love and loss.

Rennie Halstead