Photo of cloudy sunny sky filling cover; black lettering over itThe Beautiful Open Sky, Hannah Linden

V. Press, 2022    £6.50

Cruelty viewed through a prism

In The Beautiful Open Sky Hannah Linden shows us the nature of a childhood presided over by a mother who is unfit, and unable to nurture her children. I was astonished how quickly I became immersed in this world. The first lines of the first poem ‘Child’ took me straight into the horror of it:

Snow-born to a drift of a girl.
My hand: her hand, HER hand.

My hand is a doll. Bend this way
bend that. Build snow-men —

coals for their eyes, the bruise
of their stares

The link between snow and drift in the first line fills in the back story, and gives more than just the coldness; the picture is of a wasteland. The image of the mother idly playing with her baby’s hand denotes the profound dissociation she feels. The familiar picture of a snowman with coal for eyes modified by the bruise image suggests to me the nature of the men in the child’s life.

The poems work like a prism splitting the experience of this childhood into a spectrum of graphic images. They draw on fantastic myths and fairy tales as well as details of a working-class Lancastrian background. The language is always simple, penetrating, gets straight to the point, but there is a shift, subtle at first, a sense of the narrator getting a perspective on the situation and preparing to move on, as in ‘Oh Mother’: 

                                                           Don’t we all start
egg-ready to grow into raptor, our beaks primed to sing?

But a nest is an unsteady weight in the wrong tree

The poem ‘Self Portrait in the Late Afternoon’ takes the narrative further — the child who has never experienced ‘mothering’ must now become a mother. I was very moved by the struggle portrayed and entranced by the image that gives the title to the pamphlet. In ‘The Whole Family Climbs Aboard the Wonky Future Machine’ we are to imagine being on a hang-glider as we push off:

Don’t think of the mangled bones at the bottom of the mountain. Think
of the beautiful open sky.

Anne Bailey