“A Woven Rope” Jenna Plewes (V. Press) – book review

A Woven Rope Jenna Plewes book cover

Through “A Woven Rope” Jenna Plewes weaves three generations of family, starting with the mother/granddaughter relationship. “Birth” starts with “A seed / lands in a smear of water / needles a hairline crack”, where “needles” has an ambiguity and carries both the sense of threading into the crack or agitating it until it can anchor. “Seeds” begins,

“In my grandmother’s womb
lay the seed that is me
in my mother, the seed of my child.”

The poem later reveals,

“I breathe your baby smell,
feel the weight of you

try to comprehend a grandchild
seeded from my womb.”

It builds a strong sense of the maternal line and links between generations. Motherhood can strengthen a bond between mother/grandmother generations as a new mother develops a practical understanding of what motherhood means. Fathers are not left out completely though, in “Father-love”, as his baby daughter is held in his arms,

“Already you cast a shadow behind you;
soon you’ll push away his hand, slide off his lap,
stand unsteady, legs wide as your smile.

He’ll watch you lose your balance, find it, lose it again.
He’ll follow, one step behind, see you go out of sight –
wait for as long as it takes for you to return.”

Dad becomes a guardian angel of a shadow, following but allowing his daughter to pick her path, to grow and move away secure in the knowledge her father will be there when she needs or wants him. This daughter will be free to grow into her own “Self”, the poem that gives the collection its title from its final couplet, “The rim of the world’s a woven rope / you’ll wrap around your wrist to keep you safe.” “Wrap” is carefully judged: blankets, towels, clothes are wrapped to give comfort and warmth, gifts are wrapped before being given. It’s a word of tenderness. If the rope had been tied, it would carry connotations of something kept in place, something tied down and not free.

The following poems could continue the daughter’s story through her transition to adulthood or could be a retrospective look at the mother or grandmother’s journeys. But they fit within the theme of a rope or linked object that provides an anchor or connection. “From a Safe Distance” is a watercolour that follows its owner from house to house where,

“She knows that seen up-close
there’s nothing there:
pale marks on dead white card,
unreal, as every day is now.”

Up close, the observer sees the mechanics that created the painting. From a distance, the observer sees the picture. An examined, individual life may seem as if it’s cast adrift, full of pointless admin or minor decisions that don’t seem to affect much. But step back and see the broader picture, the links and influence one life has over another. The “High-wire Wedding” seems dramatic,

“high above the priest and make their vows.

Second by second, they hold a silence
strung tight between their smiles.

Music drifts up like smoke. Does she now
turn and lead, or does she follow him?

The hem of her dress ripples
in the breeze; no-one moves.”

Marriage is a balancing act. A wrong move: forcing her to follow when she needs to lead or vice versa, could bring it all down. The poem is poised to let the reader figure out which way it went. A later poem suggests success as he becomes a husband who helps pick gooseberries he hates in “A Good Man”,

“Last year they sat in the shade,
heads bent over the metal colander,
hands busy, content to be together.

One chair under the willow now,
a bucket of fruit,
too many for a widow’s needs.”

The focus turns to the grandmother generation, a widow desperate not to be a burden is busy creating ‘to do’ lists as she knows her life is nearing its end in “Living”,

“Nights when she cannot sleep, she adds more lists:
letters to write, to send, letters to leave behind,
bridges to mend, peace to make, promises to keep,
friends to hug, to comfort.

Now when there’s nothing left to say
and all the lists are done, she carefully
unwraps each day, strokes the wonder
of it with fingers gentle as a child’s.”

Her adult daughter finds herself considering the maternal links in “Her Shadow’s Borrowing My Clothes” when she catches a glimpse of her reflection in a cafe window,

“familiar gestures laid down in the strata
of my life are reappearing in its weathering.
I’m saying things she used to say to me,
phrases embedded, intricate as ammonites.
So much of her is in the bone of me,
a shadow-trace against the light.”

“A Woven Rope” is a lyrical exploration of maternal lineage through transitional roles of daughter becoming mother, mother becoming granddaughter and the potential for the line to continue through the new daughter. Jenna Plowes’ attention to details, whether marks that create a watercolour, phrases used by a mother realising she’s quoting her own mother, the tension in a high wire, let the reader admire the intricacy and feel their deceptive strength.

A Woven Rope is available from V. Press


Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Emma Lee The Significance of a Dress cover image
The Significance of a Dress Emma Lee book cover

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