Cream cover with black lettering including a sample poemDig, Alison Fell

Melos Press, 2021    £5.00

Colourful voices

Dig is Alison Fell’s answer to lockdown: poems that are as varied and vibrant as the community garden that inspired them.

Each of the twelve poems, like the months of the year, captures a different aspect of the garden in a different voice. Take the curmudgeonly tone of ‘The bees’ complaint’:

we swarm, sclerotic,
hang our dark and heavy heart
on the crab-apple tree.

You have your honey.
So snib the shutters
and leave us be.

Or the rueful lament of ‘The aubergine thief’, where ‘Half a year’s love and labour / vanished overnight’:

If only they hadn’t looked so lovely:
sleek like greyhounds,
black as Jurassic tears

In ‘The Special School visits the January garden’, the ‘perplexed’ trees ‘wonder if they have offended’ the non-communicative Latifa, because they ‘can’t comfort her / The poems can’t enter the cave’.

All the moods of weather are captured here too. ‘The slug-a-bed sun can barely / raise its head’ in ‘Winter solstice’. Then, in ‘Equinox’, the ‘trees are already thrilling to the news / that the wind [...] / is hoving east at a hurricane lick’. But in ‘Six heifers’:

snow falls parsimoniously,
like the last drops squeezed
from an empty udder

The images are fresh, arresting and beautifully succinct, infusing the poems with a remarkable energy. ‘A happy refrain...’ alludes to Singin’ in the Rain, and kicks off with ‘A splash of sun, a spasm of rain,’ but how quickly ‘the fleet kinetic glory’ of the famous feet takes us from: 

       shallow puddles, clearing the Atlantic
with a hop and a skip from kerb to gutter,
                      joy democratic
                      in technicolour

These are poems with range: this one joyously blossoms and spreads, but ‘Planting bluebells’ takes us ‘Under the doddering leaves, black loam, / bed of beginnings and endings.’ Here, the mood goes deep, with the roots: ‘So many millennia to make the link between / cause and effect, but so few years to lose it.’

While reflecting on humanity, each poem here is as colourful and captivating as a flower itself. 

Lorna Dowell