Elements of Water, Caroline Davies

Green Bottle Press, 2019   £6.00

How we frame our poems

It’s always a decision, writing and grouping poems, what to leave in and what to cut away. At the heart of this collection is a coherent sequence set on Noah’s Ark. Probably all the poems belong to this — they’re beautifully unified by the watery theme — but in the early and concluding poems things aren’t made so specific. For me, this expands the frame.

It’s a slender pamphlet — 14 poems in all — which adds to my sense of the care that’s gone into its design. A slate-green cover depicts a faint sail on water, in fog. The opening poem is the one that will, I think, most stay with me. Called, simply, ‘Absence’ it depicts someone (each time I read, I feel it’s the poet) imagining herself in the situation refugee and homeless families face:

if there wasn’t a table
nor plates, knives, cups, bowls,
walls, a roof and a bedroom each.

Further, she imagines ‘one of my two sons’, ‘not at the table, having drowned’. And into that rising water the poem leads us, until the dream in ‘Load’ (a few poems later) brings the story of the Ark explicitly to the fore. This closes powerfully on: ‘two babies — / one fair-haired and the other dark — / too stunned to cry, being held above the water / as their mothers drowned.’

And so we’re into the Noah sequence, which fills the middle part, until the narrator, after the flood, settles back into a well-stocked home with echoes of the opening poem.

That’s not the end, however. The final poems also (at least to my mind) travel further. And the very final one, ‘Afterlife’, surprises me with its sense of, in the end, release, freedom and joy:

I will join thousands
in a gravity rush downstream

a roller-coaster twist over rocks
past fields and trees

and never get tired

To me, these good choices — of where, and how, to start and close the collection — expand the canvas beautifully. It’s as though the sequence at its centre has been framed and given context.

Charlotte Gann