When the World was Left in Pieces, Jennifer CopleyThe jacket is white with an oblong painting placed right in the middle. The title is above the picture, centred in black lower case, each main word starting with a capital. The author's name is in lowercase italics below the painting. All text is black. The painting is of a face, probably a woman's though it is not strongly gendered, looking to the right. The mouth is unsmiling so the impression is one of melancholy reflection. Colours are yellows,  ochres, black, green and white.

Wayleave Press, 2022     £6.00

Poems to hold on to

At one time or another most of us need something to hold on to. Falling, we grab for something solid. Drowning, for something buoyant. Challenged financially, we might cling to hope or our dignity. But what if we have to let go of people we love?

In the novel East of Eden by John Steinbeck, when Tom fears losing his sister, he clings ‘for safety to little plans, designs and machines’. And in Jenifer Copley’s poem ‘When the World Was Left in Pieces, Dorina reports:

Our grandparents couldn’t come with us.
We belong to this soil, they said
and what is buried here.
They waved us off with trembling hands,
our grandmother holding the sleeve
of our grandfather, our grandfather
holding the long soft mane of the pony.

Copley shows us a grandmother too emotionally over-wrought to hold her husband’s hand. She seeks comfort in the texture of material she has probably washed and ironed a hundred times. And — perhaps ashamed his wife will know how sad and scared he feels — the grandfather seeks comfort in the softness of a pony’s mane. His need for softness is heart-breaking.

In the preceding poem, ‘When the village was happy’, Jennifer Copley reminds us what we hang onto through memories of happy times:

Children played in the fields,
women sat chatting in the market place
and men rolled home only a little drunk.

In the context of war, we hold onto the memory of education, law-enforcement and a bus ‘that would take [us] into the city’ and more importantly ‘bring [us] home again’. Even the drudgery of work in ‘a small factory that made boots’ now seems reassuring. And

At the crossroads, a doctor’s surgery
took care of everyone.

In happier times, people in these poems could come from all directions of the ‘crossroads’ to get medical help. It didn’t seem so very special back in the day, but Jennifer Copley reminds us that when faced with ‘the hard-sounding feet of soldiers’, most of us would hold onto the memory of that ordinary surgery for dear life.

Sue Butler