Mariscat Press, 2008 £5.
Angela McSeveney is such good company. I haven’t met her, but I know she’s old enough for her hair to be greying and wears fabulous hats (about which she’s written a very funny poem)—surely the proper attire for someone well-versed in practical magic. “To a vegetarian troubled by longings/ for hot bacon rolls,” she advises in the title poem, “choose a brace of beetroot from the rack” and then
Thump them onto the worktop
like that morning’s spoils
shot down on the hill …
Then as the cleaver
splits each apart
watch them bleed like upended pigs.
She goes on in this satisfyingly gory vein until you’re practically scrubbing beet blood off your hands. McSeveney is good at pulling you into all kinds of startling moments. She watches a seedling
struggling like a child
with a too tight jumper.
Straining to get itself free
from the seed casing…
(‘The Growth of Plants’)
She remembers entering an ice-cold lake as a child, her skin
…bunched up in knots
trying to flex its long gone fur
as the water met my midriff.
(‘Swimming the Lake’)
Or she describes two wedding rings (her husband’s and her own) lying on the kitchen table, “overlapping easily/ like a Venn diagram”—those intersecting circles in your high-school math book that illustrate the relationship between sets of objects—a particularly apt metaphor for marriage.
McSeveney’s insights are deep yet matter-of-fact; her tone is so tart and conversational that her poetic force takes you by surprise. There are a couple of poems here that I wish were shorter and tighter; they’re probably just fine at readings, but work less well on the page. By and large, though, her tendency to ruminate is a good thing. ‘Child Poverty’, a poem about her sister being hospitalized after an accident, seems discursive but is actually quite concise: its 24 lines say everything about growing up in a house where a child’s ruined coat could bring on a financial crisis. ‘Oil Seed Rape’ describes those sulphur-yellow flowers in a way that sends your mind ricocheting back and forth across the Firth of Forth—one of many poems where McSeveney gives you a ride on her quicksilver train of thought.