“Winter with Eva” Elaine Baker (V. Press) book review

Winter with Eva Elaine Baker front cover“Winter with Eva” is a love affair against a backdrop of Brexit between Sean, who is British, and Eva, who is Romanian. It starts gently with request from Sean for her to meet him in the park in “Sun”, who observes,

“the way you hunch down
make yourself small as a child
to say hello to dogs

the way you touch your palms together
press your lips
when you can’t find the words

the way you turn your face towards the sun
and close your eyes.”

It creates an image of Eva as gentle, courteous enough to greet dogs properly, someone whose English is not yet fluent and someone who enjoys simple pleasures. Sean is aware of her back story, in “Creation” he watches her work at a charcoal lump until she can draw with it,

You draw your city of spikes, Bucegi Mountains bristling with pines, fields
you flatten to sky, sky you stripe and stripe and stripe
until you ache.

You draw someone and I can tell
it’s you.
You scratch around for dirt and spit into your palm,
work to make the paste to paint a man,
the man you knew before.
You use the paste to paint his hand that wore the glove that ripped the heart

The “spikes”, “bristling”, the sky darkened with stripes of charcoal, the act of spitting, the “glove that ripped the heart out” all build a picture of menace. This place that was formerly home is no longer welcoming. The poem ends on a different tone,

“and now we run,
leave behind the pines the fields the city spikes the man
the man. We roll together
under the moon,
under the pinhole eyes of stars.”

The stars suggest celebration. However, the notion of being watched is reference to again in “Mirror” in a trip back to Bucharest, “that feeling you had sometimes when growing up/ of being watched” that draws the contrast of the joy of being understood in English when chatting to a stranger on the street. Sadly the poem ends with a “go home scum” message in block capitals scrawled on a bathroom mirror. Eva said she thought she was home. But it’s not just external racists that hint the relationship is changing. In “Glass” Sean dreams “All the stars are broken./ Even their insides are dark.// Eva, you’ve done this.” Sean notices Eva keeps nipping out to the corner shop, run by a Polish man. Sean didn’t even know that Eva could speak Polish. In “Cupboard”, he hears Eva’s phone ringing in the hours just past midnight,

“You take it in the kitchen
and I’m under the covers leaning –
aching –
trying so hard to catch the shushed things
that even the brick dust in the walls
is deafening.”

Sean is faced with a dilemma, let her go or try to keep her.

The affair is captured succinctly and small details allowed to accumulate into a bigger picture. Sean feels love and tenderness towards Eva and remains keenly aware that however much England feels like home, it’s still a place she is adjusting to against a trauma of being uprooted and facing anti-European sentiments and attacks. He understands her affinity for the Polish man yet holds out hope his own love is strong enough for her. If this were prose, it would be a short story rather than a novel, so it being pamphlet length feels right. As part of a full collection would probably end up a lengthy coherence sequence that wouldn’t fit amongst single poems. There is a strong sense of narrative arc: two people meeting, falling in love, sharing their lives until cracks show ending with Sean’s dilemma. The poems balance celebration and disintegration. A satisfying read.

“Winter with Eva” is available from V. Press.

The Significance of a Dress book launch Leicester Central Library, Bishop St, Leicester LE1 6AA from 7pm. Free Entry.

Book Trailer at Arachne Press: https://arachnepress.com/books/poetry/the-significance-of-a-dress/.

Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AA

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