Gorse Publications, 2005 - £4.50
“Once upon a time” commences the first poem in this collection, as Pat Earnshaw sets off to revisit myth and legend and explore topics such as ageing and memory. In ‘Free-Lance’, she sets out her stall:
Don’t fix me in a frame, corral my thoughts
or place a limitation on my journeying.
My mind needs space.
She certainly allows herself that liberty in the 32 pages of this pamphlet, and her journeying takes her to a dark world where dreams shade into nightmare and despair. Black and white are everywhere in these poems. Night, shadow, death and the underworld confront references to snow, milk and the moon, and there is no safety in monochrome, a word which appears in several of the poems and which is echoed in the grey tones of the pamphlet’s cover illustration of a hanged pierrot figure.
These Gothic Tales are chock-full of strong, often unpleasant images, and Earnshaw offers no reassurance, no light relief. Even bright colours are ominous, with “threatening messages/ inscribed by scales across the wings/of butterflies” (‘Colour Me Beautiful’). The richness of her writing will appeal to many readers but I felt it often overloaded the poetry, weighed it down, allowing clichés to creep in, and unfortunate word choices, such as “uglily” in ‘Trapped’. For me, Earnshaw is much more effective when she strips things back to the bone, as in ‘Nirvana’, where
in stained fleeces
look to their white futures.
When she has a story to tell, as in ‘Bird-Strike’ or ‘Gemini’, the poems become sharper; and there are nuggets everywhere, even if sometimes you have to dig through the wordiness for them. In ‘Trapped’, passing bells toll, their songs
…racing away like white-hot dust of stars
shaking and shaking the sky
and changing nothing.