Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

 Flarestack Publishing, 2006 -  £3.00

 

I admit it, I was worried as soon as I read the title. And when I turned to the title poem, whose twelve sections extend over seven pages I was not reassured. The title is subheaded by the familiar (though contested) translation of Christ’s words on the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Faced with this statement at the start of a poem, I don’t know how to react. They are such serious words, so saturated with tragic tradition, that I’m not sure whether it is courage or foolishness to put them at the start of a piece of twenty-first century verse. In the first section, there’s a setting—“a wildness of sugar/ and green-crossed shutters” and there’s “a hot, dancing whore with promise of succour”. How can she dance only a few lines below those heavy, heavy lines at the start? By section III, I know we’re in Skiathos where there are “succulents battling with Archangels and Moses”—and I can’t tell whether the poet is being flippant or deeply ironic when she inserts, in italics, “Ela ela lama sabacthani” instead of Christ’s words—familiar even to those of us who don’t speak Hebrew—Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. I don’t speak modern Greek either, but I think “Ela ela” is a kind of ‘come on, come on’ expression. So it this something rather smart? After all “Dionysus sits laughing on top of the clocktower”. Perhaps. If so, the ambition of this poem was too much for this reader. And then I got seriously irritated:

 

          Oatgrasses scratch my back.

          If I was a horse I would turn and graze;

 

          instead I sit writing words,

          my pen an extension of my body

 

          as though, a woman, I have grown a penis.

In what sense does a pen, even if it has become a part of the person, resemble a penis? And then there is another painful pun—“if only I can avoid the ants” is swiftly followed—in parenthesis—by “if only I can resist parantheses” (italics mine).

    On the back cover of this pamphlet, Anne Stevenson praises Geraldine Green’s poetry for its naïve quality—and she compares the poet to W. H. Davies. Davies had the trick of evoking complex emotion through disarmingly simple expression. Sometimes Geraldine Green can do it too. The last line of ‘Passio’ is beautiful:

 

And the long, slow drop of honey drunk from the thread of

wild woodbine.

 

Indeed, she can do it, though not, to my mind, in the long title poem which over-reaches itself and fails. This is an interesting poet who can write simply beautifully, (by which I mean her writing is beautiful when it is simple—naïve in the art sense).

    ‘Blue Vein’ in this pamphlet is potent. ‘Campeachy Wood’ is good. ‘Smelling of Blue Gum’ is terrific. Here it is in its entirety:

 

That smell when a Eucalyptus tree is cut;

when a ladder is propped against it,

when a saw is blading through barked flesh

and blue gum trickles down.

 

Two hands pull on the new white rope,

blue gum sticks to air. I can see it.

Today the sky has been asleep,

tomorrow the moon will be full of blue gum.

  

Helena Nelson