Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Smith/Doorstop Books, 2005 -  £3.00

 

the pamphlet itself—a little smaller than A5, plain, in a neat green slip-cover—is everything you’ve come to expect from Smith/Doorstop. And at first reading, Cherry Smyth too can appear to be the typical Smith/Doorstop poet—unshowy, engaging and accessible, with a neat line in anecdotal, narrative pieces.

But that’s not to say she’s simplistic or obvious; one of the great pleasures here is the discipline with which she avoids the temptations of the epiphanic ending. Instead she relies on the economy and precision of her language, and a tenderness that is never allowed to become sentimentality, to move and delight. In the collection’s title poem, for example, there’s the lovely: 

Only now can I begin to feel
how slow your seasons are,
how long buds shepherded
in that crinkled shade
how much it took to float
your field of veined paths,
to trust some earth. 

Other pieces, notably ‘Water’, ‘Holding Pattern’ and ‘One Wanted Thing’, pull off the same difficult trick. There’s a refreshing variety of form and subject matter, but a consistency of tone that gives these poems a powerful cumulative effect.

Although Smyth is probably at her best when her focus is personal, there’s no unwillingness to tackle wider concerns, particularly the tangled politics of her native Northern Ireland, and the way living in the middle of a wholly abnormal situation can become routine after long enough. ‘A Hundred Thousand Welcomes’ says it best, with its: 

A tension you didn’t know was tension ate at your neck.

You thought it was the bite of home. 

It’s an observation that gains all the more resonance from the skill elsewhere with which Smyth finds the unusual—and even the miraculous—in everyday life.        

Matt Merritt