Pale cream cover with a mirror shape in the middle, with red and black letteringHonesty Mirror, Ellen McAteer

Red Squirrel Press, 2021        £6.00

Ode to a Motorway

The blurb for Honesty Mirror describes this collection as a ‘psychogeographical study in how an unspoken inner life can be projected onto landscapes’. Surprisingly (yes, really), it is the roads in this pamphlet which really piqued my interest.

Ellen McAteer’s poem about the M6 in ‘As the Crow Flies’ elevates an ordinary motorway landscape into something profound.

Rooted to the confines of the motorway, the poet observes as ‘a crow flaps its own road / across six lanes and into the woods.’ She considers this freedom; in comparison, sees the juxtaposed path of the drivers, as ‘Windmills wind the road on / as cogwheels do a chain.’

Here on the M6, progress is very much ordered and restricted. However, McAteer’s journey is beautifully observed, with phrases such as ‘ghosts of bridges’— a perfect description as darkness casts a fleeting shadow over the car. Similarly fantastical is her anthropomorphism of electricity pylons:  

Pylons walk the grey river
tied together like convicts
by their six arms.

Like a chain gang, the poet empathises — with these huge rigid creatures tethered to their own route. She then returns to our initial subject:

The crow has reached its nest
among the whispering
pines by the roadside

close to the animal dead
that marks a human road.

Here, the poet touches on the peace and serenity of nature, and of the simple journey the crow makes to its desired location. Humanity is judged for ripping through the bird’s path, both literally and metaphorically, resulting in road kill.

In ‘Fit for Work’, the poet writes of ‘sky the soiled shade of road markings, / the wet road bullet-coloured’. The final stanza begins:

Now the worms of traffic have become veins of light.
The sky darkens to the road-colour, and still we wait.

This is a beautiful observation and yet sinister, full of foreboding. With the cover blurb in mind, the poet seems to see roads as deadly, confining. A far cry from Robert Frost’s vision of roads in ‘The Road Not Taken’. But then, he never travelled on the M6.  

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