Liberté, égalité, fraternité, Elizabeth Kelly, Kate Young, Mick YatesThe jacket design shows what appears to be a wall, maybe concrete bricks of whitish grey. There are three horizontal lines between the bricks. There are also vertical stripes. Three quarters of the jacket area is a dark red vertical band, through which the bricks can still be seen. All text is in white on the red band, and all text is right justified. The three words of the title are in large white lower-case, one word per line. Names of the three authors, very much smaller are in the bottom quarter of the red band, one per line.

Hedgehog Press, 2020  £7.99

Three poets respond 

Responding to three big themes in the context of Coronavirus, the poets showcased here cover an interesting range of concerns.

Elizabeth Kelly engages with liberté, organising her poems into a succession of weeks. This gives her work a ‘lockdown diary’ feel.

In ‘Week 1: The Beginning’, she links liberty with air, although it is (ironically) ‘compressing around us’. From the second line, the speaker states:

I caught the dense sky and
wrapped it around us

It’s too tight you said.
It has to be I whispered.

In ‘Week 2: Changing States of Matter’, ‘the sky lay on our bodies / like mercury caught in a loop’. Kelly borrows from physics for metaphorical purposes, using the different changing states of ‘Liquid, solid, gas’ to represent the flux of space and time. This metaphor-borrowing is extended through the other three poems and — surprisingly — gives sensual and sexual interest in ‘Week 3: Stabilisation Of States’: ‘We swam in the liquid, / it spread over our backs’.

Kate Young tackles égalité in a more traditionally lyrical style. Numerous adjectives adorn her poems. In ‘Indigo Moon’, there are ‘mis-shapen moons’, ‘violet voices silenced by mountains’, and a ‘monotonous magnetic pull’. The brilliantly titled ‘Nirvana From Inside A Van’ explores interesting sonic play as ‘She rolls / a slither in the alley, / coins chink, exchanging glances’.

In another of Young’s well-titled poems, ‘Display Case In Red’, the speaker compares herself to a ‘once exotic butterfly’ who is living in ‘an airless / light deprived cell’, a useful metaphor for lockdown. Throughout the poem, motion and ‘stillness’ are pitted against each other.

The third poet, Mick Yates, considers the consolations of nature. In ‘Spring’, he interrogates daffodils, hoping for answers as to why the ‘coronavirus plague’ has caused ‘carnage’:

i seek solace and answers to
some difficult questions that have been troubling me lately
like what is happening in the world?

His final poem, ‘Coronavirus’, argues that ‘when all this has passed’ we should ‘not remember the isolation’ and instead ‘embrace all that it means to be human’.

Nell Prince