naming bones, Joanna Ingham

Ignition Press, 2019  £5.00

Making room for the feelings

This collection, full of strong, clear, vivid poems, positively bulges with love. And it explores our difficulty containing it. The opening poem, ‘Fontanelle’ observes, as all new mothers must: ‘there has been a mistake. / You have left your heart too close to the surface.’ In ‘Visiting Gwynne’: ‘She served us tongue, / three livid discs each / on milk-blue plates.’ The girl poet can't begin to eat, her mouth ‘full, / suddenly, of my own tongue’.

The too-muchness of things is vivid too in ‘Doing the heart in Lower Five’ — a brilliantly inventive poem that crams much within its frame. Intensity is sustained the length — and breadth — of this fat, one-stanza poem, itself like an enlarged heart on the page before:

Then it’s break and we can wash our hands, drop
our hearts in a bucket like the babies in the abortion
video they made us watch, let the portacabin,
its swollen walls, pump us out into the light.

In ‘Flight’, the idea of a plane’s black box is internalised —‘They’ve fitted me a black box in my chest’ — before taking us on a breathless journey through the heights, and depths, of hypervigilance:

It's actually orange,
my black box, emergency tangerine with
an underwater locator beacon and cockpit
voice recorder so you can hear me screaming

Then: ‘And if you think you can hurt me any / more, you can’t, because my black box sees / it all’.

There’s a poem where things are left out — not ‘contained’, in that sense — to powerful effect: it’s called ‘The Paedophile’ with no further reference to that (clearly crucial) fact. And then there’s also the upside of feeling things intensely. She writes exquisitely of nature, including our place in it, and physical love (from ‘Geckos’: ‘This morning geckos hide under the room’s skin. / The fan rocks loose in its socket’).

The final poem, ‘What autumn is for’, exudes the calm we're capable of, when not overwhelmed, and simply present:

Here, I say, triumphant

as I lift a leaf, the bones of a leaf,
red-purple lace fine enough
to breathe through.

Charlotte Gann