Failing to Find Old Sarum, Anne Sherry
Mudfog Press, 2019 £5.95
‘softens the between-us’
In Failing to Find Old Sarum, plants and colours clamour. Sun-drenched places call to us. Fragments of different languages are dotted through these energetic, curious poems. I found the poems most powerful where opinions and viewpoints change before our eyes.
‘With a Poet’s Precision’ invokes a sense of ‘beauty by association’ as a dragonfly meets water and sunlight. The speaker identifies at first with the dragonfly, admitting that ‘I too tend towards suggestion’. But ‘Then a crow flew across my retina’. This single, ominous line in the past tense makes it clear that something important has happened. We learn that the speaker has developed an eye condition. This leads quite literally to a change in outlook. Now she is subject to ‘flashing lights, floaters’. This change goes beyond the visual: ‘Today, I fear enigma and inference’. However, the ‘precision’ of ‘rational medicine’ opens up the chance for a new kind of beauty.
‘Excursion into Colour’ explores differences between an artist and a technician in their love of light. The speaker seeks ‘romance, rainbows’ on an art course. The instructor prefers a scientific approach, covering ‘wavelength, frequency’. ‘After negotiation’ they discuss ‘spectral radiance, / fog bows, moon bows’. Technique is tempered by natural beauty. The artistic and scientific are able to coexist.
‘Feta’ sees the human speaker find common ground across boundaries of species and language. Snatches of Greek return something of the smiling cashier’s ‘hesitant English’. This is ‘a healing place’, where pleasantries can be exchanged without judgement. Later, the speaker notices
Manoli’s cat, the old one
who sails with the fishing fleet
eats tiger-helpings of sardela
loves bread, cheese, tomatoes.
The cat has taken on human behaviours, but remains a cat through its ‘tiger-helpings’. Human and animal merge again in the final line: ‘Two fat feta cats’. Here the speaker becomes a cat herself. The two break bread together, and she is transformed.