Lime green cover with grey border down left hand side. Red lettering with a central image of a Christmas bauble Adventus, Sue Vickerman

Naked Eye Publishing, 2017    £7.50

Full of surprises

The collection title sets out the purpose of these twenty-five poems — an advent calendar of reflections on Christmases past and present, married with thoughts on endings, beginnings and hopes. I was struck by both its variety, and the lovely twists of surprises within individual poems.

‘The end of love’ explores exactly that: a couple struggle with memories of their commitment, and an intimacy which is now lost. After recounting the joy of physical touch filled with the potential for conception, the surprise is held in the bitter final lines:

A feeling more acute than ‘loved’ is to be ‘not loved’
and old
damn you

‘The thing not said’ is the lovely surprise of a ghazal — my personal favourite form — with the refrain being ‘you never said goodbye’. In each couplet the narrator encounters her former lover. Hope of reconciliation rests in that repeated line. It’s packed with yearning. I suppose we’ll never know the resolution.

‘The Siege of Bethlehem’ goes somewhere completely different, examining an aspect of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. The poem begins ‘O little’, reminiscent of the famous Christmas carol. There’s a powerful turn though, into images of the modern setting — ‘turret of a tank’, ‘windows shattered by rifle fire’, ‘the bomb / left in a manger’. After a run of desolation, the poem ends on a screenshot of beauty: ‘lemon trees, intact, miraculous in the barren field’.

‘Canal Christmas’, a well-crafted prose poem, tells the tale of a narrator who is seduced by a promise of salvation from ‘the Prince of Peace’. Yet she finds herself decorating the houseboat of her bah-humbug lover, optimistically opening champagne that she then drinks alone.

This advent calendar pamphlet throws us yet another surprise in ‘Jesus’s big sister’. We hear a female voice: jealous, angry and attention-seeking, from the day of his birth through to his adulthood and relationships with women. It’s a question of sacred versus mortal fallibilities.

Adventus is an incisive, enjoyable collection, infused with revelation.

Maggie Mackay