Charm for Catching a Train, Milena WilliamsonThe jacket is dark green with suggestions of a pattern in the colour, an image of a key just about visible, a horse shoe, a bird. All text is right justified. The title is in large white or pale green lower case over three lines, so that it nearly reaches the centre before it's complete. The author's name is in the lower half of the jacket in black. It is also lower case but significantly smaller than the title, one word per line.

Green Bottle Press, 2022   £6.00


More than half the poems here involve travel — by foot, train or plane. Not only does travel bring new experience, it creates a break for reflection. Where is the traveller in her or his life?

Milena Williamson’s pamphlet is spun from childhood and early adulthood in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania before the poet moved to Belfast where she has been working on a PhD at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University.

Her writing is full of details of daily life, its deliberations, family, food and drink, and its Jewishness. The language sets a generous mood. A couplet from the middle of her opening poem, ‘Stranger’, runs:

I stand there searching for something déjà vu.
To feel like I have been before in a place I have never been

At the end of the poem, she stands in Belfast’s Tomb Street, telephoning her father with Irish phrases. Past and present are in a state of delicate balance. As T. S. Eliot suggests in ‘Burnt Norton’, ’both perhaps present in time future’.

The final, twentieth, and title poem, ‘Charm for Catching a Train’, is a sonnet in which detail makes the journey immediate. ‘I take her by the elbow and through the gates.’ The sextet moves into the future: ‘At the end of the line, / we will find the castle and boats setting sail.’

‘Untitled Nude’ takes another journey:

Once the space between us was as great as the ocean.
Now we sit close, eat mocha cheesecake at midnight,
sleep late and kiss goodbye

In the thought-provoking ‘How They Kept Their Wings: a Triptych’, each column reads horizontally and vertically. Reading down the third column, terse phrases begin domestically (‘Line / up the forks and knives‘, ‘Set / the table / like shrapnel’) so that familiarity is exploded. Aeroplanes are ‘all degenerated’, until their ‘wings / [become] windows’. ‘Everything’ spindles back to ‘fathers and mothers’ before the sequence rounds back to ‘forks / knives and passengers’. The journey is complete.

Sally Festing