“The Suitable Girl” explores issues such as grief, anorexia, poverty, expectations within society and how interior landscapes inform exterior ones through contemporary characters, myth and literary figures. Eg in “Bertha Mason Speaks” (from “Jane Eyre”), Mr Rochester’s first bride describes how she’d hoped to be happy and hadn’t anticipated the wrench of exile:
“that I floated on a celestial conflagration of saffron frangipani only to plummet, petrified, into a voodoo tomb; that within these stone walls time became obsolete: no market days, no festivals, no seasonal ebb and flow; that mocking echoes dogged this stifling boudoir and rattled within my bones;
that while I stalked the corridors of the haunted mausoleum, cinders and sparks showered their benedictions upon me; that I invoked the shapes of incandescent fever-trees, both eclipsed candle and hungry flame; hat I sang, blood-red, the island’s setting sun, despite my dislocated tongue.”
Cold reality of England intrudes via the long “o” assonances which slow down the rhythm and then give way to “i” assonances in the second paragraph quoted as the rhythm quickens. There’s a passion for language here along with technical accomplishment. Whilst Michelle McGrane is primarily interested in women’s experiences, not all men in her poems are emotionally cold and unresponsive, “If You are Lucky” ends
“In the morning, maybe,
soon after sunrise
you will walk barefoot above a waterfall in the forest,
light-headed with the smell of sex,
laughing in your deshabillée.
You will carry
the music of this memory with you
and from time to time,
in the small withered hours,
your body will sing its remembering.”
The poems are not without humour either, in “Space Gourmet” from the “Lunar Postcards” sequence.
“We season freeze-dried macaroni
with liquid salt and pepper.
Water is distilled, recycled
from our breath and sweat.
After a week of granola bars,
nuts and bitter orange juice,
the commander’s arm
begins to look tasty.”
These are lyrical poems that sing with assurance yet remain exploratory, encouraging the readers to think around the issues raised and draw their own conclusions. Their descriptions are sensuous, guiding readers on an emotional journey.
By Emma Lee