The Ship Owner's House, Judi Sutherland
Vane Women Press, 2018 £6.00
Being an Outsider
Judi Sutherland writes about her journeys, from south to north, from past to present using the perspective of the outsider. Whether mourning the loss of her grandfather’s possessions, or abandoning the red kites as she leaves the south for life in the north, Sutherland always seems to be outside.
The quality of the poetry leaps from the page. The poet manages to distil the essence of loneliness. In ‘Skipping a Generation’, she creates a vivid image of her grandfather, a strong and dominating figure seen through a family photograph. She recalls a man in: ‘cloth cap and overcoat — some summer that! / Your nervous wife and scowling son — my Dad [ ... ]’.
This is in an opening stanza tinged with affectionate memory. The turn at the beginning of the second stanza is dramatic:
Mac, your squabbling son and daughter cleared
your life out of that sixteenth-storey flat [ .... ]
all skittering down the building’s garbage chute
to the skip where waiting neighbours claimed the lot.
The poem ends:
No legacy. Nothing to remember you by.
They tell me I inherited your eyes.
A different sort of outsider appears in ‘Underworld’, where the poet takes us on a tour of the ghosts of the London tube. In ‘For Jo Cox’she examines the ultimate outsider, the assassin. ‘Blind Girl in Pimlico’ presents perhaps the most vivid sense of apparent exclusion when Sutherland writes about a blind girl visiting an art gallery. A sense of absurdity fills the first six lines. It is ‘Cruelty to guide her / through these galleries’ when ‘All she sees / is her boyfriend’s elbow [ ...]’. Then, with a delightful touch, the image is turned on its head:
[ ... ] she is permitted a special grace
to touch these objects
as no-one since the sculptor did [ ... ]
The richness of another sense comes wonderfully into play as ‘her fingers glide / across bronze and polished stone.’