Majid Sits in a Tree and Sings, Rebecca Cullen

Smith Doorstop, 2018  £5.00

Recurring motifs

I like groups of poems which feature recurring motifs. These can help bind a set in a way that’s satisfying. They’re part of the furniture of that poet’s particular language – and can, I think, feel as cumulatively poignant as any overt, thematic concern.

I think half the poems in this pamphlet contain shoes: including, ‘stout boots’, ‘muddy boots’, ‘brogues’ and ‘pointed shoes’.

Often, their appearance is quite involved. In ‘Midas’,

You want the girl to think of you and smile, to be the sand
she finds in the toe of her shoe long after a holiday.

In ‘6 Brunswick Street’, ‘One of Paul’s / shoes is in the corner. He’s lost the other; / it doesn’t matter.’ In ‘Orlando’, ‘I wore your shoes / although they were too small for me’. And in ‘Crossing from Marazion’:

The mothers stand in doorways, trill
‘He must wear his father’s shoes!
What height will he reach full grown?’

Shoes make their first appearance in poem two, ‘Mother’. Here, it’s in the distinctive form of ‘boots for babies, / with wooden soles’. These (worded slightly differently) recur three times in this circling, fourteen-line poem:

Her hands lie loose in her lap. She slips out a child every year from under her skirts,
imagines every other baby crumpled in a brown paper bag. The walls whisper things
and promise. There are boots for babies with wooden soles.

And ‘Opening’ begins ‘My shoes come sleeping in a box. / I hear them breathe inside the tissue paper book’. This one contains the memorable image of a shoe sole as ‘thick alright, like a slab of black tripe’.

These are strange references. I find myself recalling the Shoemaker fairy tale – and I’m enjoying myself. The poet is conjuring a new world for me, one in which I may well be able to find points of common reference, but not a vision I could have summoned for myself.

Charlotte Gann