Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Delightful surprises

What I like best about these poems is that they surprise me. By which I mean, they delight me — by confounding my expectations, at the same time as resoundingly confirming what I know to be true. They’re also luminous, while glinting with irreverent humour.

In the first poem, ‘Eastham Street’, at a certain hour (when the ‘chip shop is closing’) old women gather at ‘the top of the street’: ‘Lightly the northwest wind brooms aside / trash of clouds and words.’ How I love that echoing, contrasting, perfectly matched ‘clouds and words’.

Here’s an ‘Afternoon’ late in life:

A wakeless lull that’s less than sleep
brims in her eyes and palms and lap.
Something is finished. Nothing’s done.
A lapse, a loss, a truce, a peace.

This is what this poet does. Again and again I recognise the right word, the right rhythm, the right rhyme and meaning delivered together in a way that’s elucidating, confirming, stimulating and satisfying, at the same time as surprising! All these things — which, for me, inseparably equal the project of poetry.

‘What shall we do about the mess?’ she asks, with perfect poise in ‘Shall we dance?’.

The title poem, ‘Honeycomb’, is extraordinary — so many of these poems are. ‘How nimble the old are’, it starts; and then, a little further in, this idea is introduced: ‘how I love anything that hesitates — pauses — / sticks with me a minute’.

What an interesting, amazing picture is being built in my mind. Of this character — old person, very light, and filled with light — flying past, as on we all hurtle. Here’s the last verse:

              I’ve gathered a little parchment leaf.
It settled against my cheek as damp and cool
             as a child’s kiss. We have happened
                          together. We slip away.

This is what happens to us all. It’s all that can happen between us: to coincide for a while, touching. How extraordinary that this poet has captured this in this poem, which then stuck with me a minute, as we spun past.

Charlotte Gann