The Bone that Sang, Claire BookerThe jacket is purply mauve in background. The bottom third features a line of four design tree shapes in white, each a different shape with pretty lines inside them. In the top third of the jacket, justified left, is the title (in yellowish lower case, large) and the name of the author slightly smaller below this in white.

Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2020    £6.00

Poems for armchair travelling

What shines forth from the 27 poems gathered together in The Bone that Sang is the diversity of their settings and the inclusivity of their author’s narrative world-view. Among them are tales — some true, others maybe not — of far-flung places: Oberammergau; the ‘Leaning Tower, Pisa’ (‘this exquisite faux pas’); the ‘Empire State Building’ (featuring King Kong and Ann Darrow, ‘endorphined up’); a Romanian bear sanctuary; Skiathos Harbour; Malaga; and several that are set in Africa.

The taut but extraordinarily rich fourteen lines of ‘Ivory’ show an elephant in Botswana being relentlessly preyed upon:

Because it’s the colour of fine churned butter,
buffalo milk, chiseled teeth of Xhosa girls.

Because it’s hard as the click of Kikuyu on the tongue,
pliant as river fish under the blade.

[ … ]

Because it has no smell but the stench of Dollar.

In a darkly sardonic sonnet (‘Abdul Haroun Almost medals at Dover’), Booker recounts the true story of a refugee who made it ‘from the bloody sands of Sudan to the concrete beds / of Sangatte’ only to fall at the last. He ‘dodges surveillance cameras as if they’re bullets’, but at ’28 miles he hits the wall’. Booker goes on to express her anger and compassion with comic irony:

No podium for Haroun, though he heard the Brits
love an underdog, went wild when two plucky pigs
hot-footed it off a knacker’s truck to freedom.

Two poems evoke the last journey and character of (presumably) Booker’s Bengali mother-in-law. ‘Amma-ji Goes on Haj’ contains tender details:

Soon she will forget how
she worked cotton into peacocks and palm trees,
slipped us secret generosities in envelopes.

Those feet that felt nothing for forty years,
will step onto the crescent moon
and dance to the great heartbeat of the Brahmaputra.

The companion piece, ‘Life Support’, entwines Amma-ji’s fondness for TV nature documentaries with her death in hospital:

The Emperor penguin on his egg: if it broke

we’d watch him warm a smooth, round rock instead.
Now they tell us you’ve been dead all week —

This is moving, memorable poetry, bursting with colour and life.

Matthew Paul