Climacteric, Jo BrattenBackground is pale pink. A large full colour photograph of a hand almost fills the jacket, palm up with the palm full of fire cones and what look like dried flowers. The title is in small black caps top right, right justified. The bottom right hand corner, over two lines, holds the words 'Poetry by Jo Bratten' in slightly small black caps.  The publisher's logo (a white fountain pen nib) is inside a small black rimmed circle bottom left corner.

Fly on the Wall Press, 2022    £6.99

The opening poem

It’s always interesting to consider the running order in a pamphlet and particularly which poem starts the set. Accepted wisdom is that the first piece should be a strong one — something that has the poetic muscle to carry the reader onwards. It can also be the poet’s way of introducing themselves.

The first poem in Climacteric, Jo Bratten’s debut, is a triumph on both counts. In ‘New Year’s Day’ there are no resolutions. The poet is not looking forward; she is

the bath, tugging snakes of hair
from the stinking drain, wondering
how so much of me got down here.

As a ‘this is me’ poem, it’s a wonderfully artful way of announcing the poet’s voice — wry, questioning and good humoured. It shows with lovely irony the ambivalence of the poetic process. I thought of Marianne Moore’s ‘I too dislike it’ and Yeats’ ‘foul rag and bone shop of the heart’. As an introduction to a pamphlet, it’s irresistible.

Why so? To me, it says this is a poet who will not flinch at the task of what needs to be explored, extracted and examined. And the end result will shine like a clean bath. Like Janus, this poem looks both ways — all that debris down the drain, some of it retrievable, but much long gone:

In the cold estuary I’m circling
black terns under a groggy sky

There’s a sense of travel onwards into a future where the poet (or bits of them) wakes:

somewhere in the body of a whale,
retched up on your shore, a warning.

The sustained metaphor that takes us from plug hole to ocean anticipates the metaphysical questioning to come. The quasi-biblical ending hints at a combination of ecological and spiritual concerns. And all this from cleaning the bath.

If I read a review that only talked about one poem I’d be suspicious. But — honestly — I have read the whole pamphlet (many times) and none of the poems disappoints. That said, a first poem must inspire you to start the journey. This one does just that.

David Lukens