Of Certain Angels, David HarsentThe jacket is white with a ghostly image in the centre, like a woman (I think it's female) seen through the glass of a shower, one hand pressed black against the glass but the rest shadowy grey. Text is centred in the top couple of inches of the jacket, first the title in small bold red caps, then the author's name in grey lowercase.

Dare-Gale Press, 2022    £7.00

Making visible

What does your inner eye see when it hears the word ‘angel’? Artists and stone masons have given us a huge range of possibilities. In these poems Harsent gives them flesh, blood and a robust physicality. On the cover, Ruth Padel calls them ‘feral.’

The angel in the opening poem is On her back, on the bed, arms raised, legs spread. The toughness in these monosyllables gives her weight and bulk. She’s ‘that fusion // of lust and prayer’. When she departs she leaves behind

                                                  the full flush
of her nakedness, faint scent of fallen ash, walls scuffed
with light, her handprint at the cave-mouth.

She’s ‘The Angel of Transformative Light’, a long way from the predictable cliché of a sweet smile and draped limbs. She’s hawk-like, with ‘that wide wingspread // mantling her smile’, an image Harsent returns to in ‘The Angel of the Surrogate Quotidian’:

                                                       her wings
mantle the food as a hawk mantles its prey, opening
songbird or shrew

Winged and fast-flying, yes, but also a killer: a hawk’s eagerness as it rips its prey apart is not for the faint-hearted.

Harsent’s titles, however, are abstract. Among the thirteen angels, one poem a-piece and all a single page in length, we meet ‘The Angel of Delinquent Poetries’, ‘The Angel of Furtive Eschatologies’, ‘The Angel of Stopless Sorrow’ and (my favourite) ‘The Angel of the Good Death’:

She brings to a white room a white bed. Full moon
to the bare window. White silence to empty walls.
A white book, your last and best, lies where it fell.

No longer a bird-killer, the death this angel brings is a gift. In the white light, the abstract and physical merge, although she’s strong enough to come ‘with whisky when you call for it.’

Harsent’s angels are a combination of the unearthly and the down-to-earth, moving easily between different elements. They’re almost visible: sometimes seen, sometimes only seen in the mind.

They are perceptible to the senses in more ways than if they were simply limited by descriptive detail. A tough crowd, they have nonetheless infinite care for human need, including sexual desire. I’m glad to have spent so much time with them.

D. A. Prince