Aloneness is a Many Headed Bird, Rosie Jackson and Dawn Gorman

The Hedgehog Press, 2020    £5.00

The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020       £5.99

Telling secrets, sharing wisdom

One of the reasons we turn to poetry at times of uncertainty is to find the wisdom to see us through. In this clear-sighted, compelling and generous pamphlet we’re offered it in abundance.

Framed as a conversation between the two poets, these poems alternate with the grace of a call-and-response. The pamphlet becomes a room where secrets are shared:

What I didn’t know was that her womb

had fallen completely outside her body. No-one knew.
     [Rosie, ‘Untouched’]

Here, no subject is taboo: not the feats and failures of the ageing body, nor experiences of sexual assault, nor even meditations on death and dying. Reading these frank, unheightened poems becomes a way to eavesdrop on some of the questions women ask themselves when they’re alone:

What would they make of me,
walking from so many men?
     [Dawn, ‘Bloodlines’]

Yet not everything in this conversation is transparent, graspable. Some secrets are partially held back or only hinted at:

       [...] Nanna’s house whispered of things
I’d not known — tin bath in front of the fire,
my coal hewer grandfather,
beer on his breath, what happened next.
     [Dawn, ‘It All Adds Up’]

This combination of sensory detail (‘tin bath in front of the fire,’ ‘beer on his breath’), held in balance with a troubling lack of specificity (‘things,’ ‘what happened next’), is compelling. As the conversation deepens, we become privy to other forms of knowledge, intangible but dangerous:

            [ ... ] the light wanting to enter
is too much to see. I don’t speak of it much, even in poetry.

In the past, such notions took you to the stake
     [Rosie, ‘The Hanged Man’]

Both poets draw on the symbolism of light and dark as a way of figuring the revelations and concealments at stake both in conversation and in life:

We are capable of more love than we know.
That’s something to reach for, isn’t it,
in the dark of the night?
    [Dawn, ‘Hands Like Ours’].

This is contemporary confessional poetry at its best: a place to be seen in private, a place to be alone yet heard.

Kathryn Bevis