“Shadow” brings together poems about animals from a poet who really does connect with the natural world and allows animals to be as they are without human sentiment layered on top. Any cat lover would recognise the wild kitten in “The Second Jab”
“With carpet rolls and sun, she spun, then hissed
as paper bags go down, at slightest touch.
The she grew milder, clawed along my skirt,
fell spilled across my arm, asleep, like water;
floated, as we swim, unborn or dead.”
The poem ends with the line that gives the collection its title, “A useless name. ‘Shadow,’ I say. ‘Oh Shadow.’”
Her real love though is for horses. In “Stubbs and the horse”
“Stubbs painted the huge bay, after its race.
The canvas was filled by its plunging dark back.
The horse had been whipped. The trainer was sacked.
The patron’s power is the horse’s alone.
The muscles are hills. There is pain in the bone.”
Notice how the horse gets more description than the humans and how powerful that description is, echoing Stubbs’ style. Alison Brackenbury notes approval for John Wesley’s concept of an animal heaven where horses are turned out into open fields. In “Wilfred Owen at the Advanced Horse Transport Depot 1917” “….The dance / of hooves beat in my head. With aching back / I pound white roads of France.” contrasting a childhood memory of riding along a beach with the drudgery of a working war horse. A “chestnut and truculent” horse in “Rosie”
“Once you pawed the wire fence, hooked your front shoe,
yet hurtled over, unhurt, my true cob.
I should have bobbed through April’s woods on you,
have bolted in the blurring stubble field,
sweated, cursed, forgot. Horses are love
but love is for the young and I am old.”
Refreshingly unsentimental and written by a poet who clearly loves both language and horse.