Talking the Owl Away, Katherine Duffy

Templar Poetry, 2018   £6.00

Meditations on exchange

A poem asks us to exchange our attention for a reward. The reward might be amusement, empathy, argument, or simply the beauty of an exquisite phrase, all of which I found in Katherine Duffy’s pamphlet, Talking the Owl Away.

But there is more. The poet herself is clearly considering types of ‘exchange’, beginning with the first line of the first poem, ‘Proposition’:

Oh tree, let’s exchange gases!
Waft me your heady blessings
and I’ll season you with CO2.

In the title poem, ‘Talking the Owl Away’, a daughter exchanges roles with her mother, persuading her to give up what her aging vision sees as an owl for the reality of tree branches and ivy:

                                I’ve talked it away
as you might have coaxed a toy from me once
when it was time for bed and you wanted to tidy up.

Juggling must be the ultimate art of exchange, and in the witty ‘Juggling Oranges by the Window’, we find gifts, generations, myths, all being exchanged:

My elders, rooting in a stocking, found
not an ipad but an orange,
and were happy. So they say.

As the collection progresses, the exchanges seem to become more weighted. In ‘Over the Counter’ the poet must, literally, purchase tears in a bottle to properly express feeling.

‘Embellished’, superficially a story about failing to purchase a ‘Hand-Embellished’ dress, asks questions about commerce, beauty and child-labour. ‘Rorschach Test’ explores what people might exchange on each side when a dividing wall comes down in an unidentified city: ‘The new freedom was like a package of knives, elaborately wrapped.’

‘Hard Shoulder’ considers the poet’s own exchange with the universe, the making of stories in the face of distress, decay and death (‘I try, but fail, to spin a web’) and accepts that sometimes ‘night-clouds’ must ‘do their work.’

As a reader, I’ve enjoyed my exchange with this poet, several times now. You won’t go wrong if you exchange a few pounds for a copy!

Heidi Beck