Poetry Read #8

This is Morag Anderson’s first pamphlet – 26 poems over 28 pages – and it is a cracking debut.

The opening poem – Two Doors Down – about the “daftest dad on the street“, finishes with “No one collected his ashes. / They believe / he is burning yet.” Gives you a fair idea of the territory we are being invited to view: an ‘ordinariness’, often situated in childhood, an overbearing (and unforgiving) religious community, not to mention the stuff that ‘goes on behind closed doors’. The next poem – The Heated Kitchen – is one sentence spread over 13 lines to create one brilliant, shocking poem locating violence clearly and plainly in the domestic: there are so many good lines / images – “the broken doll blink of my eyelid” – but you need to read the entirety of it.

The poems are almost without exception terse, tight affairs, saying what needs to be said, with an economy and precision that is enviable. At their best, there is almost no distance between language and sensation – she uses words in a way that make you feel almost in advance of any thought: of a baby, “I…thumb / the estuary of her milk-mouth.“; “it is difficult to swallow / the tight collar of his words, / sharp like the cut of his shirt / against the skin of my dress.“; “I am disposable and new. / An emaciated mare / barely good for glue“; and my favourite, “pour me over ice / smashed like fallen birds / bury me with a mouth full / of cherries“. At these times – and there are others beyond the ones quoted – the writing is electric, it flashes across your skin.

The sequence of poems from DNR, through Glasgow Coma Scale and Kintsugi to In the School of Life Sciences, run through heartbreak and loss and the complicated memories of those things, adding weight to the end of the collection that seems in some way to slow down the reading of the final pages.

While there is an underlying hope that there is love out there, these poems are not for the faint-hearted; there is violence, abuse, and other cruelties. Clearly it does not do to surmise biographies from things that people have written, but these poems display such clarity and authority … then again, conviction and the ability to convince is a measure of good writing.

And I could not close without mentioning the line from Offertory, that makes me laugh each time I read it: presented as a scribbled note in a hymnal, it reads, “for circumspect sex, call Mary M on XXX”.

Available from Fly on the Wall Press: https://www.flyonthewallpress.co.uk

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