The Weight of Snow, Pauline Rowe
Maytree Press, 2021 £7.00
The complexity of grief
Pauline Rowe’s second pamphlet with Maytree Press starts with a moving narrative about her grandmother’s reaction to the accidental death of a daughter who is ‘swept [...] away by the trailings of a lorry’ (‘A Letter to Nanna, Bereaved’).
These opening poems give a vivid portrayal of Nanna Ada. Her character is artfully sketched through details such as the way she dances in her kitchen. Quickly, the reader is invited to see how the devastation at her daughter’s death becomes an almost uncontrollable force within her. This grief-filled rage is directed at her husband who once expressed pity for the driver, in ‘Inquest’:
He heard her from the bottom of the stairs.
Her body hit him hard
full force —
a blur of rotting motherhood or wolf.
Later in the same poem, the grandfather realises that
He had no way to find her love again.
His act of charity, irretrievable
(monolithic in the sediment) —
Rowe is good at direct, spare lines, setting scenes without embellishment. The aftermath of tragedy reverberates down the generations, and gives unspoken depth to other lesser-known characters who populate later poems. The narrator, as a girl, delivers a neighbour’s shopping, on ‘Fridays after school’ (‘Mrs Fox’). On arrival, the neighbour
at the threshold —
held my hands and prayed
her giddy vowels
rising into sobs
Some poems read more cryptically, featuring identities that can be difficult to decipher. A theme of snow’s weight is a conceit subtly referenced at various points, and there’s a sense of covering. Sometimes, the weight of meaning is felt, more than wholly understood.
At the end of the pamphlet, we return to Ada, and to Rowe’s direct style. I feel thoroughly immersed when ghost-Ada visits the narrator during the birth of her son (‘Delivery Room’). This is a poet who understands the complexity of family ties, of love, frustration and anguish.