the waney edge, Chloe Balcombe
Green Bottle Press, 2019 £6.00
Loss, leavened with humour
This collection presents some elegiac poems of loss, leavened with others possessing a sharp mix of humour and cruel wit.
The amusing poems are on occasions laugh-out-loud funny. I particularly like ‘Driving Lessons’, a tongue-in-cheek account of an errant husband attempting to conceal an affair, but revealing himself through his driving habits:
the passenger seat tipped slightly back. That
unknown scent he claimed was air freshener.
He was skilled at steering her questions —
lateness blamed on roadworks, odd absence
excused in some roundabout way.
‘The Backcomb Beauties’ takes you to the self confidence of the teenager:
Blonde Marie had perfect skin, porcelain pale,
she spoke six languages and knew her way
around a comb.
Marie teaches the Backcomb Beauties how to prepare for a night on the town, ‘slick on lipstick / eyeliner, oversized coats.’ They were:
a charm of rare birds,
crowned and crested, winging [their] way down
West Street […]
Sheffield’s boldest barnets flying in formation.
Interspersed with the humour are pieces that chronicle loss. ‘Runner Beans’, for example, begins:
Breakfast is an art form and this his medium;
Scarred with age, his hand
shakes as he lifts the spoon.
I can see the corrall
of his ribs, his heart protesting its capture.
The reek of the care home, the resignation
of his dying wife have stolen his appetite
for growth; he’ll not sow runner beans
At the end of the poem:
he loathes us leaving,
leans sullen as a child against the radiator,
yielding briefly as I clutch his skinny frame.
An even stronger sense of loss comes from poems that feel much more personal. ‘Shush’ takes us to the aftermath of death, where ‘After the sharp sigh of the morphine shunt, / silence followed’ and ‘the undertakers […] / zipped him up like expensive dry cleaning’. The narrator and her sister pass the night in moonlight in their childhood bedroom
quietly mothered […] as we lay awake,
lost girls in twin beds in the spare room.
Much more could be said about this collection. It is one of the most striking I have read this year.