HappenStance Press, 2006 - £3
As the title suggests, the poems in First Blood focus on domesticity and rites of passage, but still have something to do with a careful choice of imagery. In ‘Scattering the Ashes’
A blood-red anniversary rose bobs by the reeds
where the swans who mate for life hover
and feed, their beaks dripping weeds
dredged from the river-bed in dying light.
A delft-blue iron bench embraced by ferns,
a plaque on it, engraved,
your father’s name. In black and white.
The longer, gentle vowel sounds, particularly ‘e’, give way to the hard “black and white” at the end.
In the title poem, concerning the narrator’s daughter’s first menstruation, the narrator slips her daughter’s underwear “into the sink” and watches “the water blush/ as the rosewood stain lifts”. The same daughter “spends hours in the bathroom/ rubbing herself out”, evoking the way teenagers see their perceived faults and won’t make do with embellishing their good points.
Some of these pieces veer close to prose: they convey the poet’s message but require a little more teasing, a little more play with sound before becoming a true poem. A performance of a poem often carries the memory of the poet’s voice and, when reading from the page, it’s still the poet’s voice that’s heard. However, for readers who only see the page, the poet has to find a way of getting that voice into the words and giving the poem texture.
Other poems concern a cat playing with a bee, taking in washing, an argument, blood tests from the viewpoint of a nurse who takes samples of blood but never sees the results, and ‘The Secret Life of Hair’, “long blonde question marks” or “sugar-spun fish-net in the wicker bin”.
The collection is largely free verse, but there’s also a well-executed sonnet and a verbal mirror poem, where the lines of the second stanza are those of the first in reverse order. The poems in First Blood are closely-observed universal experiences with a personal dimension. It’s the careful accumulation of detail that makes these poems come alive.