The Day of the Flying Ants, Emily Cotterill
Smith/Doorstop, 2019 £7.50
Trying to join up the dots
The dots on Emily Cotterill’s personal map are flagged in this pamphlet’s dedication: This pamphletis dedicated to Alfreton, even the bits that happen in Wales.
She uses a light pencil and delicate tracing. Her strength lies in showing connections while at the same time letting the differences show through. In the opening poem ‘At Least Not in Wales (after RS Thomas)’, she begins with the human voice:
The bright girls from the valleys will say
they can’t hear the difference in English accents.
I won’t know if they’re lying, but I’ll laugh.
How much irony is there here? Whatever their accents, the English are English (or not Welsh), but Cotterill, with her Derbyshire coalfield background, has a shared industrial heritage with the South Wales coalfields —
coal dust in my lungs, blackened blood matching theirs,
the threat of a red brick still hanging in the air
There’s a literary ‘dot’, too, as Cotterill carefully lifts two lines from RS Thomas’ ‘Welsh Landscape’ into her own poem. She makes the connection lightly, showing a shared lineage. Yet she reminds us that ‘England forces itself between each of us’, and England with its language is something she returns to, a subject that she can’t let go — or that won’t let her go.
In ‘The English Don’t Have a Word for Hiraeth’, she tries to fix what ‘home’ means for her, now, and how it’s defined by her language —
I force my same worn retainer over the undulations
of this new shape, rough over the fresh slicked ulcers
with my familiar tongue and have an ache of something,
the pain of home, in the re-set and release of this jaw bone.
She’s between two places, with her allegiances shifting even as she tries to nail them down. Both countries offer home comfort in different ways, at different times. Cotterill shows connections and then unpicks them, leaving only the faint trace of continued attempts to explain how she’s part of both. She’s honest in her accurate depiction of uncertainty — and I like this very much.
D A Prince