“Unfurling” Alison Lock (Palewell Press) – book review

Alison Lock Unfurling book cover

The poems in “Unfurling” give a sense of unfolding from daily routines, allowing oneself to be blown by new sources of inspiration and to find small moments of joy during a pandemic. The imposition of an imposed indoor life still allowed for a daily walk and discovering new connections online leading to new activities and spiritual expression. The first poem (all the poems are numbered without titles) asks,

“What makes you feel alive?
………Is it the wingbeats of swans

whooping over the lake
………or the churr of a wren in a tree?

Are you made quiet
………in the awe of these wonders:

the blush of a rising sun,
……..the white of an unknown day,

or the might of an endless sky?
………Do these things take your breath away?”

And suggests,

“Whatever awakens you,
………allow it to fill your being.

Take time to know the invisible plume,
………feel how you open and close and open again.”

Lockdown here is presented as a chance to reconnect with oneself, away from pressures of work, deadlines and/or societal expectations and focus on what moves and inspires the individual. This reconnection has a purpose to help re-evaluate our lives, consider what brings a sense of renewal and what blocks us from being inspired and finding a peace. As well as internal exploration, there is also external exploration. Daily walks became an opportunity for mindful focus, a connection with nature. In iv,

“Within the hedge
………is a harbour

for the seeds of the fruit.
………On the lawn

is a hazel tree
………grown from a nut

planted by a squirrel.”

Here too is a sense of going back to basics; a tree grown from a small nut. A good firm foundation is the initial building block of a solid future. The poem also observes the interdependence within nature. The squirrel foraging and burying nuts did not deliberately plant the tree but its actions inadvertently enabled it. The hedge’s purpose is not to be a harbour, but in protecting the seeds it gives them chance to grow or feed birds. In ix, as “frost lacquers the fields”,

“small flocks of goldfinch
………display improbable colours,

defying the sky
………with their chatter.

Snowdrops bow
………below green hoods,

their white petals,
………a hope for peace.”

Winter can be drab, devoid of colour because trees are still bare and the ground is muddy. So the goldfinches become a sign that spring is forthcoming. Lockdown might have stuck people indoors, but the cycle of nature continues. The white of snowdrops becomes a signal for peace. But it’s also the colour used for surrender, suggesting peace can be achieved by acceptance, working with how things are to make them become how you’d like things to be. Moving from a personal winter of restriction and lockdown to a spring of openness and opportunity means doing the work to reconnect with personal values and finding what will make you grow. The later poems shift to a suggestion of moving forward and beginning to open up again. In xxiv, the speaker finds herself,

“curious at the shape
………left by a caterpillar’s mouth.

Treat all with mercy,
………let kindness grow.”

“Mercy” isn’t a synonym for “kindness”, “mercy” encompasses compassion and forgiveness. The caterpillar needs to eat, but it doesn’t eat the whole leaf because the plant also needs its leaves and destroying the plant would leave the caterpillar without food. Seemingly small acts can have a larger significance. That can be true for humans too, in xxix, a counter argument to “You say life has no purpose,” points to hands that have,

“a trace of dough,
………the staff that keeps you whole,

and on the heels of your hands
………are blisters

from digging the soil,
………the essence of clay

caught in your lifeline
………as you form a vessel

to describe a thousand stars.
………See how they fall and rise,

a kinesis of dust,
………motes in sunlight.”

Small actions bring sustenance and/or joy to others. But in the pressure of everyday life, it’s possible to overlook our interconnectedness and difficult to find time to consider the purposes behind our actions.

Through “Unfurling” Alison Lock has created a series of meditative poems, exploring how giving ourselves space to press reset and re-focus our attention on what sustains us offers new inspirations and sources of creativity during a time of imposed external restrictions. Each has a prayer-like quality asking us to question and re-frame our lives to create space to consider our actions and their effect on the world around us.

“Unfurling” is available from Palewell 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.

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