Gorse Publications, 2008   £4.50 - http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/patearnshawpage.html

Gorse Publications, PO Box 214, Shamley Green, Guildford, GU5 0SW.
Tel & Fax: 01483 274389

Someone whose name I can’t recall said reading Chekhov was reading about yourself. That’s the feeling I got as I started to read Virtual Eden. The drunk rector in ‘Buried’ reminded me of the priest at my friend’s wedding who pronounced her fiancée and herself man and wife when she alone had said the vows and I do. The flies in the room where a corpse is laid out brought to mind a wooden church in Russia, an old woman sitting in a shaft of sunlight by an open coffin and swallows darting through the eaves catching flies.

Virtual Eden is a series of vivid cameos that trace elements of the author’s life between the ages of one and eight. As far as possible they’re told from a child’s-eye view and are concerned with those things that affect, intrigue or disturb children, as in ‘Doing Joined-Up’:

In half a year I will be five. My brother’s learning
how to do joined-up. He makes the letters hold
each other’s hands and dance.


Earnshaw is an authority on antique lace and many of these poems are as intricately crafted as that fabric. They weave their way through her childhood— school, her father’s suicide, time spent in hospital. In ‘Scrying Bowl’ she watches her parents together:


In the big bed bare shoulders rise
and fall, mounding the sheets, hiding
the legs and feet. A head is buried
in the softness of my mother’s pillow.


These poems have an understated honesty that I really liked.

Perhaps my concern is that, like antique lace, these poems and the narrative they create won’t be seen as fashionable enough for our hectic, sensation-seeking modern times. Though my mother, reading this over my shoulder, has just commented (with a glance at my jeans and jumper bought in a car boot sale) that what I know about fashion could be written on the back of a stamp and still leave space.

I have my fingers tightly crossed that I’m proved wrong.


Sue Butler


The Young Reader adds:

I don’t much like the cover of this chapbook. The title and poet’s name have been pushed aside by a large, ugly picture of Adam and Eve and the serpent. It’s all very ‘busy’, and although it is relevant to the title it hasn’t got much to do with the poems. Inside, some poems run right to the very bottom of the page, which looks a bit strange. There needs to be a consistent margin on each page.


The poems are about the poet’s memories of childhood, and they’re quite detailed and sometimes a bit prosy. They’re not just nostalgic pictures of a happy childhood; there are hints of trouble and upset in the background that the child doesn’t quite see or understand. This makes them more real than some memory poems, and I liked that about them.