Cataclysm, Natalie Perman
Frosted Fire at Cheltenham Poetry Festival, 2021 £9.00 (incl P&P)
Sharing the unspoken: poems that talk to each other
These poems are strange and often surreal. They’re full of interesting phrases, attractive images and floating ideas.
Their techniques vary considerably. I found the prose poems punctuated by forward slashes stifling, because for me this mode is physically difficult to read. I was happier reading poems with a layout of short lines, and particularly interested by ‘The Poem in the Locket’. The first line and a half of this poem directly echoes ‘The Photo in the Locket’ by Jackie Kay (after that, the two poems strongly differ).
So the idea of things not told, personal information that’s important but unspoken, is deliberately foregrounded, something two poets can relate to.
And I think this opening is a strong start to any poem: ‘There are things I don’t tell her’ suggests the poem may share secrets, an idea that attracts me.
Jackie Kay’s unspoken secrets are connected with her pre-adoption childhood, and the photo in her locket shows ‘two black girls side by side’.
Natalie Perman has a different background that she keeps concealed in her ‘locket’ . According to the publication website, Cataclysm explores:
a Jewish heritage characterized by experiences of dislocation
But this time, we’re looking at a poem in a locket, not a photograph. And if she is talking about her Jewish heritage in this poem (as she may be), it isn't obvious. I think it may be deliberately blurred.
However, the poem includes many surreal images: for example, ‘an egg that was not / all yolk’, and ‘words eaten in sleeping bookshelves’. The poet says she’s ‘ashamed’ of something she hasn’t kept and — interestingly — she refers to a lost memory, a sort of absence of photograph, though a grandfather and a grandmother are mentioned. Different senses get mixed up synaesthetically: ‘a black and white orange’ carves a shape; the colour green is ‘buzzing like white noise’.
The ‘poem in the locket’ is, I think, the poem I am reading. I’m inside it with the poet, grappling with a half-lost memory.
The poem is also a ‘waiting room’ which ‘only has two walls’. It is as two-dimensional as a piece of paper. The piece of paper in my hand as I read....
E T Michie