Heroines on the Blue Peninsula, Becky Varley-Winter
V. Press, 2019 £6.50
How do we ground our thought processes? Often the answer to this lies in re-entering the sensory world. Sometimes we can do this ourselves, but one of the functions of poetry is perhaps to remind us of the external.
In Heroines on the Blue Peninsula, Varley-Winter has an eye for picking out details which made me pause, reminding me of the delicacy and strangeness of nature. In ‘Cape’, for example
Burs stick like acolytes
to the cape’s hem
as snow drifts across the roof
in a curl of wind, veiling night.
There’s a compelling oddity here, which feels appropriate in a poem that’s constantly shifting. The ‘cape’, at first a piece of clothing, later becomes ‘a cape of land’.
Varley-Winter is native to the Isle of Wight, and many of the poems draw inspiration from this location. There is also much sea-related diction, which I found gave the writing extra heft, often adding a dreamlike quality.
In the same poem, ‘Cape’
cowries and scallop-queens
rustle | clink like skulls | teeth
and the cape sways towards me
as though a ghost
is touching it gently.
This is a description to which I kept returning. It’s a wonderful concoction of sound and movement with its mix of assonance and alliteration. Rather like putting a shell up to your ear, you can hear the ocean through the words. Similarly, in ‘Wight’:
On St Catherine’s Down, a ruined chapel echoes
hollow as a bone flute, where beacons were lit
for those drowned at sea.
Again, those lovely ‘L’ sounds in ‘chapel echoes hollow’ roll us under long sonic waves. The sea imagery both grounds the poem and adds more layers of mystery.
I finished reading the pamphlet thinking that the poems felt at home in their own lostness, and that the natural details — often powerful single images — are what binds the poet’s wider contemplation and thought processes.