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Osada’s enthusiasm for nature can run away with him at times, with words like “wonderful” and “lovely” occasionally popping up, overlooked intruders in an otherwise-manicured lawn. ‘A Change in the Weather’ comes with an unexpected twist at the end: “We lie and wait for ragged dawn - / Together, but with separate thoughts / Aware, our love, like summer’s gone.”
The second section, ‘At a Time of Unrest’, is a looser collection of poems that is perhaps bound together by reflections on aspects of modern life. ‘About the House’ notes that the former stately home of Nancy Astor, Cliveden, beside the Thames, now attracts “weekend hordes”, when it previously hosted the likes of those who arrived by helicopter or limo. There is no direct mention of the 60s antics of John Profumo, the Russian naval attache, and Christine Keeler there; only “a shadow on the terrace” and “a sudden gust of wind” to suggest those ghosts. You can book a Profumo Affair Break there now, according to the website. Other poems in this section fondly recall Dansette record players, the darning of clothes to make them last, or are amused by tattoos, and people apparently talking to themselves in the street. Smuggled in among these are the more disturbing ‘Secret’, about a haunted childhood, and ‘Truce’, in which the poet searches “in vain for love’s green shoots”.
The final section ‘Keepsake’ covers familiar ground for those of a certain age; discovering new aspects of a parent’s life when clearing their effects, the changes evident in successive visits to care homes. But these are poems that it is still necessary for those involved to write; and Osada has brought freshness to this well-trodden territory. ‘Private History’ finds “photos we’d not seen … a world and places we’ve not been … a family we’ll not know”. It goes on:
And, from the war, escaping through thick snow.
No pictures mark your trip across the sea
But next, in England, working on a plane.
Lots of your squadron – “fighters for the free” –
There are more of his father’s memories of Poland in ‘Beneath Limes’. Osada also finds himself reflecting on a poignant change of roles in ‘The Reading Test’ when his mother, a former headteacher, is examined by an ex-pupil. ‘Easter Moon’ provides the arresting image of a “moon-breast rising on an x-ray screen / With a shadow – a cloud, like an eclipse.” ‘Visiting’ addresses his mother in her care home: “Teaching was your life and all those children / still come to you for lessons … every one, /in cupboards, behind curtains, they are waiting / for visitors to leave this empty room.”
Another poem, ‘Inheritance’, concludes: “You would know we’d clear your house / And buried secrets we’d dig out.” A sense of discoveries as well as things that still need explaining runs as a hidden theme through this collection. Changes is the title that Patrick Osada has chosen for this book – but for me, an alternative could have been Secrets. It is a book that richly deserves re-reading, much more than a second glance.
Greg Freeman is a writer and poet. whose recent collection, 'Train Spotters' has been published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. This article was first published on the Write Out Loud website, where Greg has worked as an editor for several years. He hosts the Write Out Loud Poetry Open Mic at the New Inn in Send, Woking, on the third Monday of each month.
These themes of female self-doubt and unhappiness continue throughout the collection; she explores hidden levels of being, of subcutaneous fear, double lives and emotional deals, where looks trump everything else, and where the writer will never be beautiful because she doesn’t feel beautiful. In these highly emotional pieces, women both use men for gain and are used by them, negotiating affairs, and receiving gifts for services rendered. This last theme is brutally observed in “Eternity…”
“Now as the tightropes between state pensions,
topaz is still dumped on dressing table,
sapphires still abandoned by wash basins,
but the eternity removed only when she showers,
or when the young man who chucks her heart
to the back of his mind comes over to fuck her.”
And in “How to Live with Mirrors” again, she articulates the price women pay emotionally for aging:
“At 56, you know most middle-aged women now
exchange primping before mirrors for
frowning at bulging bellies….
But once a day you face yourself in a mirror,
selected for its benevolence….
Sometimes the glass is gentle you have strayed into mutton,
But most days not bad for an old bird.”
Here, boldly and poignantly written is the understanding that beneath a woman’s outward appearance and smart excuses, there lurks the fear that she is losing her power to attract, that the beauty of her youth inexorably, inevitably fades, taking her power with it. All of us older women who have experienced these feelings will understand what Sinclair is articulating so well here.
In “Staying Alive”, again, youth is remembered, this time from a male perspective:
“Catching disco fever in his 30’s
dance classes to learn the moves,” moves forward
“Easing into his 60’s in chinos and crew neck,
he takes night classes in local history,
but still a glitter-ball glint in his eye…”
Yes, the body still resonates to what it experienced decades before, and what brought it to life then. Again, all of us who look back on youthful sartorial expression and how this has changed as we grow older will relate to this.
Other pieces, like “Greedy Cow” look at the sadness in a relationship when food replaces sex, the death of love, and the fear of being alone. And in “Clothed in Memories” Sinclair shows her talent for exploring memories in a unique way, using the device of 60’s clothing. It is an economically written piece which has some terrific images:
“….Hendrix Hussar jackets,
Bowie spangled stacks, Jagger velvet flares,
Accessorised by hair so long your grandad
Thought he was a girl from the back…”
But this exploration of female value and status comes to a crashing downward halt in “Certificate of Value”, which succeeded in making me cross (although perhaps that was the point of the piece). She starts,
“For years, ignorant that my marital status
had colleagues gossiping Does she have someone?
Or caused speculation over my sexual oritentation
in the Sixth Form common room…”
which goes on to write about friends pronouncing her ‘very independent’ as she spent weekends alone watching DVD’s and ‘squired by G and T’. And then,
“Suddenly at 55 you pitch up,
a knight in slightly tarnished armour”
which leads to engagement and marriage, and the thought expressed in the final three lines
“The marriage certificate, it seems,
trounces mature student A levels, degrees…
as I finally succeed in becoming a wife.”
While the piece is keenly observed, I find the notion this a woman only achieves value and status once she manages to find/secure a husband regardless of what else she has achieved in her life, a really irritating one. Reading these final lines made me want to scream out loud, although I’m aware that Sinclair was doubtless writing with tongue firmly in her cheek.
While I like the collection overall, and feel Sinclair has excellent observational powers, which totally nail a woman’s fears and insecurities, particularly as she grows older, together with the double standards we are all party to, by the time I reached the end of the collection I felt rather overwhelmed by the relentlessness of her central message. Having said that, “A Talent for Hats” is certainly a collection that has a lot to say and says it very well, and is well worth reading.
Agnes Meadows is a poet, editor and performance poetry host of extensive experience, both in the UK where she currently lives, and internationally. She is the host of the women's writers group LOOSE MUSE. You can read more on her website, here.
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