“All the Relevant Gods” ranges from schooldays to office work to abandoned buildings with a sharp eye for telling details. In “The long-haired girls”,
“They examine for split ends daily,
sucking them better, and if they think
you haven’t noticed, they’ll let it down
before you can blink, shake it all free,
make you look at the sly dip and drop
of curtains across one slow eye.”
The deceit implied in sucking the hair to cover split ends sets up the idea that the curtain of hair at the end hides something conniving and sinister as teenaged girls can be.
The title poem takes readers into the world of work,
“I’m as passive as the laptops around us.
But Sagra is tall,
higher than the jungle canopy
up on a Mayan pyramid
high on chocolate with Itzamna and Ixchel.
She breathes rainforest and speaks sky,
more miraculous than the giant hummingbird
drawn in desert grit
. and I know this:
her sly lump of an English boyfriend
must grope out of Sagra’s fragrant bed,
examine the cold play of mirror
and thank all the relevant gods
for whatever she sees in him.”
The details build up the contrast between the exotic and the plainness surrounding Sagra, although these details are as much about her observers than they are her. An underlying theme is the dehumanisation of office work: the passive laptops, “the cold play of mirror”, the “lump of an English boyfriend”.
There are echoes of history in a concrete bunker in “Searching for the Police Tower, Orford Ness”
“The police left in a hurry. Undercover barn owls
in the eaves of Test Lab 5, wait for the ghosts
of scientists to magic saltpetre into freshwater.
What are we looking for, among the unexploded
ordnance? What is there left to find? Radio tower,
police tower, old business? Spat out onto shingle
with the rest, like every wreck itself to water.”
It’s refreshing to read a pamphlet willing to experiment with voice and style instead of tightly winding poems to a theme or restricting form to give poems a uniform feel. There’s a sense of prayer throughout too: whether to the long-haired girls who seemed to have life sussed, Sagra’s confidence or to the scientists in Test Lab 5 in their testing the evidence. This comes with an acknowledgement of humanity too: the long-haired girls’ endless quest for split ends, that Sagra’s confidence may hide nerves and that Test Lab 5 has fallen into decay.