“Grace” Esther Morgan (Bloodaxe) – poetry review

Grace by Esther Morgan book cover

The title poem firmly sets the scene, as the house empties and becomes still,

“It looks simple: the glass vase holding
whatever is offered –
cut flowers, or the thought of them –

simple, though not easy
this waiting without hunger in the near dark
for what you may be about to receive.”

Like the title poem, the others also use a simple but precise vocabulary. The focus is in the stillness before the drama and tumble of family life. This focus gives the reader plenty of space to read and think around the poems. Yet the poems have been worked over with the finesse of “The China-mender’s Daughter” explaining,

“how he’d check for veins of damage

lifting each piece of fine-bone to the light,
how it flared, translucent,

in his fingers – a hare’s ear
shot through with sun.”

No veins show and, like the fine-bone china plates, appear delicate yet are robust enough to take the weight of a Sunday joint or a stodge-laden pudding. It would be easy to write off “This Morning” as simply a domestic still life,

“the iron frying pan gleaming on its hook like an ancient find,
the powdery green cheek of a bruised Clementine.

Though more beautiful still was how the light moved on,
letting go each chair and coffee cup without regret

the way my grandmother, in her final year, received me:
neither surprised by my presence, nor distressed by my leaving,
content, though, while I was there.”

It’s a spot of time, a grandmother happy to accept her granddaughter’s presence for as long as her granddaughter is prepared to be there, knowing that surprise or distress might deter future visits. The grandmother, like the poems, understand the ebb and flow of family life and the importance of staying in the present, letting go of the past and only worrying about tomorrow when it comes today.

“Grace” is a masterclass in control and the necessity of finding the right word, even if it’s a simple one, allowing readers to see the commonplace in a new light.

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