The Mechanics of Love — Victoria GatehouseThe jacket is white with title centred in the middle in large black lower case letters. Above this the name of the author in small reddish caps. Her name is in a sans serif font, unlike the main title. Below this a photograph of something scientific but hard to see what it is It stretches across the width of the cover. Could be a set of red blood cells, or a spread of red berries with hairs sticking out of them. I'll go for the red blood cells, 3D and globular. At the top there is a black line in the middle of which it says LAUREATE'S CHOICE in small red caps and below this, smaller and in black 'chosen by Carol Ann Duffy'.

Smith | Doorstop, 2019    £7.50

The appliance of science

Starting with the perfumery of ‘Poison, 1986’, and the ‘Sixth Form Science Technician’ being sent out to collect supplies for student experiments, science leaps out of many of the poems. The second of these has a chilling ending:

[ ... ] Cooling in my lap,
that container of pigs’ blood, sloshing
beneath its brown paper cover

In a masterstroke of sequencing, we move from the cooling blood to the heating up of skin (and blood) in ‘Fortune Teller Fish’, where

A scientist now, you could explain
that whisper-thin strip as hygroscopic —
swelling or receding with the level
of moisture in the skin

And the science parts continue with ‘the titanium valve in your heart’ of the title piece — a moving love poem about surviving and recovery. However, it makes its presence most keenly, but more subtly felt, in two poems towards the end of the collection.

In ‘Web on the Wing Mirror’, we see some beautiful sleight of hand. All of the construction and protection that has gone before is brought into rapid focus (like a microscope) as a spider’s web on a car’s wing mirror, built after ‘grafting all night’, is revealed as a distraction from thinking about a scan of an unborn child:

And she hung on in there

on a line taut as hope, flickered
like a heartbeat on a twelve-week scan

The second of these poems is ‘Cord’ — taking place roughly six months and five days after the previous poem. A new-born’s umbilical cord falls off and is found in a cot, having

[ ... ] pulsed between us, blue-white

vigorous, the best I had to give —
stem-cell, lymphocytes, streaming

down the line they had to cut off.

It’s fitting that Victoria Gatehouse has a day job in medical research — these poems take a microscopic look at love and life as though they’ve been carefully sampled on a slide and Gatehouse is noting the beauty and fragility of the findings.

Mat Riches