Mainsail Press, 2008 £5.00
[Mainsail Press, The Old Rectory, Stanton Prior, Bath BA2 9HT]
‘Curtains’, the opening poem in Emily Dening’s collection, gets a foothold in reality and from there shifts confidently into something more metaphorical and unnerving:
They were innocent shades of blue
until you found the faces.
Scrawny cheeks, open mouths,
their high pitched voices
like they’d been sucking on helium.
Reading these lines I thought, Hang on, how can the patterns on a curtain have a voice? But in this poem they can, as Emily Dening invites her readers to inhabit the viewpoint of the narrator of the poem, with an effortless that belies her skill. The opening poem is chosen well: it prepares the reader for the darkness of some of the later poems.
Dark though many of the poems are, however, they are balanced by a sense of humour delivered with a light touch, as in these lines from ‘Pastoral (2)’:
A cow is breathing outside my window—
a cow is snoring outside my window.
The use of specific detail has to be handled with care when writing poems narrated by a speaker recalling a particular event. Inclusion of too little detail produces a poem that seems impersonal and generic, while too much can render a poem meaningless to a reader unable to access its significance. Emily Dening uses personal detail with a practised hand, as in ‘The Park at Night’, when the beauty of a relationship is captured in:
that crazy one about leaving
the cake out in the rain—
It is only on second reading that the poignancy of an enjambment that strands the word leaving at the end of the line fully sinks in, balancing as it does, the poem’s narrator on the end of the see-saw:
… flailing in air
Emily Dening is a poet who has been reading and writing poetry for some time, gradually honing her skill. The result of her hard work is a pamphlet of emotionally strong and precisely written poems.
What the Common Reader says about Emily Dening’s A Stash of Gin:
One of the most unusual covers I’ve seen. I turned it in all directions and let the words twinkle. Classy presentation doesn’t always mean the poems within are up to expectation, of course. For poetry experts I’m sure they were (up to expectation). I liked ‘The Park at Night’. Any poems which begins “On a whim” and ends
The moon behind me
striking your face
your mouth laughing
is worth reading more than once because it creates such a sense of carefree happiness. From the title, it could easily have been sinister in content.
‘Procrastination’ was cleverly written but thankfully not too clever for me. My favourite, though, was ‘Lenten Roses’ because of the vivid description of the colours—
Stamens, thick yellow
There is one poem in the pamphlet called ‘Green-Eyed Monster’ which I think most women would connect with. I felt jealous on behalf of the narrator:
And I watched you, watching her,
while talking to me,
as though a steel mesh had been cast
across chatter and glasses,
hauling the two of you
into your own thrall.
Some of the poems were subtle and much less accessible. This collection deserves to be reviewed by someone who understands all the poems.
And from the Young Reader:
The first bad thing about this book is that its cover is pitch black, which isn’t too bad in itself until you see that the second bad thing is that the title is also in black. It took me a few minutes to even find out what the book was called. Other than that obvious mistake, this is a high-quality chapbook: the paper is thick, cream coloured and slightly textured, and the print quality and layout are good.
This poet has a strong, clear voice, and the collection seems to tell the story of a life through seemingly insignificant events and observations. Each poem seems like a window onto a small part of a bigger picture. The style is tight and controlled, and full of vivid images. I especially liked, ‘Green-eyed Monster’ and ‘Miracles’.