The Dancing Boy, Michelle Diaz

Against The Grain, 2019  £6.00

The generosity of directness

So much contemporary poetry-reading is like playing a game of join the dots — with, for me, too many dots missing. On starting this pamphlet I felt a quick intake of breath. Someone’s here! Someone’s speaking!

Michelle Diaz’s powerful poems are refreshingly direct. She writes openly. Here’s the dilemma, she seems to suggest, and here’s what I’ve made of it.

The first poem, ‘Do not go to Kilburn’ starts ‘Mother, / this is the day you gave birth to me. // Let’s write a new version.’ She hands her mother a different life: ‘Instead, / have the life that would have saved you’; ‘I’ll stay on my cloud.’

‘His Screams Speak the Truth’ is one of the poems addressing her son Dylan, who has Tourette Syndrome. ‘Bastard. Shit. Fuck off! / These are not my words. / They are not really yours. / They have a strange intelligence that tells it as it is.’

Every poem is its own unfolding, as we traverse a mother’s depression, childhood pain and abuse (‘Hold, hold everything in’, from ‘Keep Your Lion on a Leash’), loss, sickness, sex, pregnancy, birth and menopause. Humour and tenderness bring their balance. This, from ‘The Rebellion of Sleeping in’:

I want to scrape back clouds,
bring morning to you on a tray,
allow you that extra hour.

I want to scrunch the world up, pocket-sized,
then feed it to you
in pieces you can swallow.

Or this, from ‘Magma Skating’:

Mum, what’s magma skating?

My mind fills with lava, eruption, something dangerous.

You do it on your own. It looks like this …

The last poem’s called ‘Trust your life’. Unusually I don’t mind being instructed — I’m glad Michelle Diaz has unleashed her lion:

Kiss the open hand of acceptance,
not giving up, not handing in your notice,
just the smooth thrill of following the river,
swimming. Dodging too, but even when you catch
on the sharpness, licking your wounds,
diving deeper.

Charlotte Gann