Maroon cover with a vivid painted scene of sunset and warm pinl lettering January, Sarah Barr

Maytree Press, 2020    £7.00

Finding comfort in winter

The cover of Sarah Barr’s January shows an unexpectedly warm and rosy sunset over moorland; we sense from the start that Janus is going to present at least two faces in these poems. For January isn’t always cruel: lack of sun can make some of us in the UK gloomy, even depressed, but there’s comfort in hunkering down.

The month’s twin faces open the collection. Looking out across a flooded landscape in ‘January’, the poet feels a shiver of excitement at the mirror-images made by water:

Are there going to be two
of everything, including me?

I think about new surfaces
and new below-the-surfaces.

It’s this ‘below-the-surfaces’ world that Sarah Barr’s subtle and refined poems probe, examining what lies concealed, as though by ice and snow, or fog. There are feelings of both pleasure and regret in what is muffled, muted, never quite spelled out. In the poem ‘Ice’, she remembers how:

As a child, cracking frozen puddles with my heel,
I delighted in their special creak,
their mud, imprinted with stars.

In ‘Fog’, she notices that:

Though this brume traps particles
of pollution which I’m breathing in,
I like the way it blots the details out.

Language hides in this weather. In ‘It’s Only a Word’, the poet finds a word in her dreams, only to wake and find it’s vanished:

like a rabbit in the snow —
cashmere, cassowary,

In relationships, too, words mute themselves. In ’Reservoir’ she muses:

Sometimes it’s easier for us to draw closer
when we’re walking but in the end
it’s what we don’t talk about that stays with me.

But cold provides us with delightful opportunities to luxuriate in that feeling Scandinavians call hygge. In ‘Ice Hotel’ we find a place:

where everything is carved from ice
but even so is welcoming and cosy.
You can sleigh right up to the door;
they serve hot meals, mulled wine

So settle down by the fire and enjoy this lovely collection. Hot chocolate anyone? Brandy? Spicy punch?

Annie Fisher