Simple pale cover, with image in centre of a winow opening and birdsAfter, Jane Routh

Wayleave Press, 2021     £5.00

Still lives, lit fuses

Jane Routh is a photographer and woodland champion. Both these interests are visibly alive in the poems in After. Each poem addresses a different, named, visual image, drawing the reader into her thoughtful, intimate musings.

The eloquent, eponymous poem ‘After’ opens the pamphlet and prepares the ground. In it, the link between all forms of art — the novel, music, pottery, painting, sculpture, poetry — is explored. I pictured ripples of creativity spilling out:

since who knows what the lit fuse
running between makers unknown
to each other might spark down the line

The quartet of  poems ‘from Lives of the Artists 1880-1930’ seeks to raise the profiles and celebrate four overlooked women painters: Flora Macdonald Reid, Bessie MacNicol, Dorothy Johnstone and Dorothy Carleton Smyth. In each of the poems Routh offers us sketches of their lives, and portraits of them at their easels. Now I want to seek out these accomplished artists.

The print ‘A harvest of death’, taken by Timothy H. O’Sullivan at the Battle of Gettysburg, inspires the poem ‘Transatlantic trade: an early photograph’. This records the way bodies of dead soldiers were plundered for booty. Here it’s teeth in focus — exported in barrels to England from the battlefields. The poem offers a visceral portrayal of the photographer at work. There’s no evidence of ‘the indifferent lens’ or of ‘landscapes untrammelled by man’. Instead, the gallery onlooker in the poem is shocked by their realisation of the truth of ‘the black gape of a pulled open mouth’.

Ken Currie’s oil painting ‘Three Oncologists’, 2002, inspires the poem ‘As in Yordas Cave’. The poet draws a link between that cave in the Yorkshire Dales and the artwork. Routh mixes darkness / blackness / thickness and limestone with spectral images. The figures emerge  but as weary, bloodied, seeking the viewer’s succour and support. An observation on the current state of the NHS, perhaps:

all three stoop round-shouldered
from the weight of the world
they’ve been carrying, eyes rimmed red
from exhaustion as they turn

After is accomplished pamphlet, proving that lit fuse does spark something special down the line.

Maggie Mackay