Glass as Broken Glass, Martha Sprackland
Rack Press, 2017 £5.00
‘Heart’ at heart
Sometimes I feel too much is written. Too many words. Too many flourishes – too much language for its own sake. At least for me. So I like it when I detect a real pulse in a poem. A heart.
In Martha Sprackland’s case, in this collection, the word ‘heart’ itself appears a striking number of times – in all but two of the poems. Each mention adds weight to my overall impression: that here are complex thoughts, journeys, explorations; at the same time, a human frame – a beating heart – experiencing them.
‘Heart’ can seem a risky word to use in poems. It’s used skilfully here. The opening poem, ‘Snail’, conveys a wonderfully accurate description of the awful, familiar experience of stepping on a snail. The description is good – but that’s not what persuades me. The poem closes, referring still to the mangled snail:
I know with absolute certainty
that it will follow me where I go, unquestioningly,
blindly, with such love
as the heart does
when the last thing to happen to it
is everything, is all it knows.
This sets the pace for me: of the heart, and of the particular helplessness of that organ.
The striking ‘Hunterian Triptych’, which comes next, examines nearly every body part – in jars on display. But not the heart. Instead, ‘we crouch before a case’, ‘our hearts alarming brashly in their own warm jars’. Similarly in ‘Superposition and collapse’, the poet writes ‘I knelt, heart in mouth,’ to examine the broken subject of her poem.
‘Seven years’ love’ contains: ‘The empty knock of a hollow heart / the wind through the billowing grass…’ And in ‘Fever’, ‘My adventurer heart pushes on into the interior’. In fact, I think this image might stand for the whole collection: an image of heart-led exploration. I like that, very much.
The final ‘heart’ mention is in the final poem. ‘Dooms’ is about the man who ‘holds the world record for number of times to survive being struck by lightning’. The fifth strike, we’re told, ‘was the first to stop his heart.’