Elliptical, Heather Lane

Fisherrow Press, 2022        £5.00

When the title is right

This pamphlet has the right title. All sorts of things are going on here, some of them clearly involving the heart, but the personal references are elliptical — in the sense of being evasive. The poems circle around what’s not quite said.

And yet the reader can’t help wanting to know more. In the opening poem, ‘Cyclamen’, it’s impossible (for me, at least) not to empathise with the lines:

                   I cannot feel like
this again, not now, so late on.

This first-person unease runs through, submerging, and re-emerging. Sometimes it calls out urgently. In ‘Fire Break’ ‘[…] my timbers fall, / dark as earth, rotten with regret’. In ‘Distance’ ‘The heart, hollow as a drum, longs for landfall.’ 

The title poem recalls a joke exchanged between two people. The joke can be found at the bottom of the Contents page (I found it long after puzzling over the poem). It goes: Question: What shape is a kiss? Answer: Elliptical (a lip tickle).

As the speaker asks her question she ‘[watches] your lips / move, not to answer, / but to frame / the thought’. A hint of erotic suggestion — this is a kiss that doesn’t happen, is never going to happen. A tickle.

Heather Lane has enviable command of natural world description. She can name all sorts of wild flowers, and her landscape is a rich habitat. Rivers, trees, sky-scapes and birds sweep past in the poems — masses of gorgeous scenery, often with features that hint at turbulent human emotions. In ‘Anniversary’ ‘[…] moles, unseen, have undermined the path’. In ‘An Ending’ ‘we are in darkness deep enough to drown // our separate thoughts’ and ‘the wind knows much / and moves us together’.

There’s an underlying feeling — perhaps — that a long-standing couple have moved emotionally apart and may be drawing close again, but one can’t be sure. It’s elliptical.

My favourite poem is ‘Damselfly’, where the poet sees an insect fatally caught in a net curtain. The damsel is both real and a metaphor for the observer, beautifully emotive:

I know her last moments,
clinging first in this perilous new space,
seeking foothold,
then unable to disengage.

Yes, I have known this too.

Helena Nelson

[Available from: Fisherrow Press, 17 Limestone View, Lower Greenfoot, Settle, BD24 9FH]