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The poems in this collection derive very directly from women’s experiences; of growing up, sex, marriage and getting older – in the 1950s and the 1970s. They are often painful: unsatisfactory one-night stands; unplanned pregnancy; domestic violence; strippers; marital infidelity, and death in old age. So when a child describes “our very own policeman” who keeps us safe (her mother says), we find him halfway through the poem following her mother “up the squeaky stairs”. At this point the child and her sister “knew it was time” to get out their crayon tin and draw “waxy pictures” of robbers in stripey T-shirts. They carry on drawing until “Mum reappeared with apple cheeks”. The crayon tin and the waxy pictures make this story persuasive, planting the event firmly in a particular period. I’m sure there was a 1953 Coronation picture on the tin and I can hear the dull rattle of wax crayons inside. No plastic wallet of felt tips.
This attention to period detail does haul some bleak experiences back to life. The woman dancing semi-naked in the pub, for men who had “more important things on their mind”, mouths “Mouldy Old Dough” as she twirls. This weirdly unforgettable song neatly authenticates the moment – though in the end this scene is all too familiar and did leave me wanting another layer to the poem.
Carefully-located memories of voices and words also trigger more amusing accounts: Auntie Vi who got so thirsty while shopping that she “couldn’t spit sixpence”; Steph (known as “Stiff”) whose Bouvier des Flandres dog was known by the children as a Bois de Boulogne, because after all it was “sideboard big” and “blocked out the sun”. I enjoyed these distinctive phrases, her parents’ castigation of “Bea” who was “black as your hat”, “fat as a cat”, who “ate husbands for breakfast”. They anchor the poems for the reader, as they must have for the poet herself.
So there is humour along the way and sometimes the surprise of trust between the sexes; when a young man takes a girl outside during a party to attempt sex against a wall, he discovers she is 15 and a virgin. So he “leads her back to the lights”, “and that, my grandmother said, her eyes black buttons/in her bright face, was how I knew your grandfather was, the one.” A teenage spirit of adventure also shines through, as in ‘Grey as the Sligo Sky’ which takes us through Ireland with “Daph and I”. The poem is typical of Broomfield’s work in its concern with the specifics; what the girls pack is “paper knickers, powdered milk, and teabags”. Of course. And in the wholesome “green and brown” of the landscape, the reader sees how “our black eye-pencil smudged/and blisters blossomed in our/desert boots.”
Naivety, fun and making-do also shine through in ‘Painterly’ where two art students agree to paint their lodgings if the landlord pays. We half see the dénouement as the poem takes us room by room through the “shriek of shades” the young women have chosen. Then the landlord arrives:
But … I thought you’d use Magnolia
he gasped, pucely.
Two art students stared at him wide-eyed,
Along with her sharp eye for detail, it is Trisha Broomfield’s economy with words and her well-chosen line breaks that lodge these glimpses into women’s lives in the reader’s mind. A good example here is ‘Safe as a Peanut in a Tree’, where two sisters are allowed to use their father’s airgun to shoot the peanut tin targets he set up for them in the laburnum. It showed me not only an unusual relationship between a father and his daughters, but through the poems’s tersely downbeat humour, gave me a taste of how the family interacted. Clutching the airgun “like Kojak”, another well-placed temporal landmark, the sisters appear, crouched by the dustbin:
letting the peanut tins have
even though the gun
only had one
and the peanut tins
were safe as houses.
If these are poems that tell it like it is, the women we meet are knowing, resilient and, from the tone of this writing, funny.
There are so many striking aspects about this close it’s hard to know where to begin. One strong feature is the detail and clarity. A hush in my step is a good example – the way the narrator’s boots ‘squeak among quiet things’ such as ‘skylarks, lizards, mice sleeping in fields’. Likewise, in A glass of water, we are given a scene where ‘Bats are flying among the roses,/a snail pops its head out of its spiral-shell/and the trees are wind-rush notes of water’. Linda Rose Parkes’ use of language, as befits an artist, is rich in sensory details; the reader can both see and hear the tide ‘dark/and close, its deep mouth sucking the harbour steps’ (Going like the clappers). One of the most moving and unusual poems is Cow at duskwhere the mooing of cattle is not only sound but also shadow and a ‘fretting for light when light is missing.’
An intriguing, recurrent image in this collection is that of the door. It is the title of the very first poem The door sings its welcome. Here it is the kind of door ‘that trickles honey/in the light/and says come in/twice at least’. The door next to it may be grey and cracked but this one is ‘a honeycomb/a promise’. Symbolic then, a ‘portal’ (Wriggling, crouching), although the way through is hard and the door tight ‘on its hinges’.
Colour and light are significant motifs in this close, representing beauty but also the downside of life when those who set out with some hope end by ‘fleeing to nowhere in a mess of blue’ while others who had ‘the light before them’ end as nothing but ghosts ‘swimming for their lives’. (A clotted blue of good intention).
As previously said, there is much to enjoy in this collection. An aspect that most appeals to me is the way Linda Rose Parkes mixes myth, fairy tale, song, rhyme and narrative. Sometimes the allusions are subtle. In A little crime that lives we are told of a mysterious ‘she’ who is ‘small-boned as Goldilocks’ and the ‘crime’ is the theft of her ‘good girl crown’ which adorned ‘her lovely tresses’. A lost shoe takes the image of ill-fitting footwear and extends it into a metaphor for spirituality, a soul that is forced to ‘limp/towards the hope of a better/when one foot is shorn/of a glass slipper.’ All dressed up in her sea-green bow is delightful to read, musical and enchanting with echoes of Elizabethan songs and The Owl and the Pussy Cat and, one of my favourites in this selection, Exuberances: an assay, is witty and innovative in its associations, rhymes, musicality and form.
Darker moods and attitudes feature in this close and there is negativity, secrecy, absence and death. The figure who runs in her nightdress through the dark is ‘thin as air’ and ‘the cold blows through’, the narrator who drifts towards her has not come to light her way home with a lamp nor strew ‘luminous petals’ on the path. Late night music overheard from a neighbouring house is the moment ‘the dead slip in’ – the same dead who yearn for the comfort of everyday things but who end with empty hands reaching out for ‘a cup of tarnished sunlight.’ (A glass of water).
This is a beautiful collection and one I’d strongly recommend. What I am left with, most of all, is an impression of salvation, a feeling of hope, a great deal of love. If you only have chance to read a few poems in this close then immerse yourself in the final half a dozen, the poignancy of them, their tenderness. SLQ
'Patrick B. Osada lives in Berkshire – and I was born and bred in Berkshire...and as many poems in his new collection How The Light Gets In (Dempsey & Windle, £9) have their roots in Berkshire, this book comes into my hands already drenched in reviewer bias. The Royal County is rightly symbolized by the Oak and Hart, and these poems are equally dignified and animate, full of the tension between stillness and movement.
These lines from Warfield Visitor hint at what I mean; describing a Red Kite…
“Till, with a flick of his forked tail / he caught the breeze to head north-west. / Like nylon kites above Larks Hill, / this bird is tethered to its home: / a pull, Like Ariadne’s thread, / will draw him back to Beacon Hill / and Cowleaze Wood in distant Bucks.”
I like the “distant Bucks” - a good handful of miles across the Thames beyond the Alfredian Burghs where the damned Mercians live...as any true Berkshire-Wessex folk will tell you. And that’s the thing, this is that rarity these days – a book of poems that, in the main, concentrate on a locality; not just its flora and fauna but also change. Here is the conclusion of Making Hay, about the 65 acre solar farm at Pingewood, Berks;
They promise they will seed a meadow here
where sheep can safely graze for thirty years,
now acres of dark windows face the sky
and on each frame a glassy panel’s ‘live’.
So, new breed farming clearly has begun
to turn a profit harvesting the sun.
This is poetry in the tradition of John Clare, responding not just to the natural environment, but also to how it is changing. Sadly, it may have a greater impact on future readers, who may reflect upon this poetry as representing a requiem for rural England. I hope that I’m wrong. It is a good read – a refreshing landscape in a gallery full of portraits…
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