Dappled sun-on-wood cover with a central photo of sky clouds, reflected on waterSymmetry of Folklore, Donna Irving

Yaffle Press, 2021    £7.00

The intrinsic sadness of cardigans

Donna Irving wastes no words in these twenty-six poems. Instead, she casts her eye over scenes from (her?) life and draws them into full focus using images. There is no trace of sentimental nostalgia, and yet feeling is powerfully conveyed. Specifics such as clothing, food, drink, décor or a musical instrument are chosen with precision to evoke a time, a relationship or social/economic conditions. In ‘Brid, 1989’:

The Fray Bentos waited in the oven
whilst we deflowered the wallpaper.
We forgot to feed the meter.
The puff pastry didn’t rise.

In ‘Afternoons’:

She’d be after my pocket money.
A lend for Double Diamond.
She couldn’t understand why I was mean.

In ‘Jazz’:

schoolbooks laser through years
virginity that the velvet
saxophone took

And then there are the cardigans. I’d never properly considered the poignancy of cardigans before. In ‘Jelly Shoes’:

You, in a snapshot,
cardy over cossy,
dancing jelly shoes.

And ‘Offerkofta’, a moving poem about a woman weeping in a coffee shop, begins: 'Sadness as cardigan.' (‘Offerkofta’ is Swedish. It means assuming the role of a victim, and has been used as the trade name for a type of eco-friendly cardigan.)

In the final poem, ‘The Late Show’, it is hats that do the talking:

She sat there in widows’ weeds
Millinery milled around the buffet.
The Panama asked if he could get her anything.
The fascinator, his floozy, dropped ash on the floor.
The pillbox had lost her husband too.

I loved the sharpness and spareness of these poems, their honesty and their intelligence, all of which are evident in the final lines of ‘Evidence Synthesis’:

I find all the relevant socio-political, medical.
theological and philosophical literature.
I critically appraise the remainder,
create a data extraction form,
run the meta-analysis.

I send the answer to the Lancet.
The evidence synthesis of how to live,
boiled down to four words.
Don’t be a dick.

Annie Fisher