These poems focus on the manifestations and properties of water, using narrative and lyric to move fluidly from the micro the macro and back. There are poems rooted in the English city of Durham and the Chinese town of Tongli. Although not explicit, some reference the separations of imposed lockdowns. The title poem is also the first,
“Frost thawed to dew in the sparkling garden.
It was late winter acknowledging spring.
Birds returned to song. And then the rain came.
Great Atlantic gusts battering shrubbery
and the compliant trees. There was then
a temptation to conceive a mind in spring.
A mind weathering that weather there and then.
There is a temptation. No sooner thought
than metaphor drenched that garden.”
As winter thaws into a tentative spring, there’s a temptation to shake off the winter layers and look forward to growth and warmth. But season’s don’t change on a smooth linear path. A warmth spell can be undermined by a return of colder days before the warmth takes a stronger hold. Watching plants bud brings a sense of optimism abruptly halted by a sudden return to rain and thoughts of winter. Later “Dew evaporated to a new day, which flowed”, a reminder that spring is on its way even though it may not have arrived yet. It marks the start of a sequence of 15 line poems that play with and explore ideas of rain. In “Of Petrichor”, a word detrived from the Greek words for rock or stone and the ethereal fluid thought to be the blood of Greek mythology gods, which is used to describe the smells from compounds of ozone, geosmin, and plant oils released by rain as it falls on soil,
“We laughed at the word petrichor.
An etymologist’s wet dream.
Medusa said she’d understood a thing
or two about divine fluids and stone.
Its grating consonantal sound and
uninviting vowels. Only that terminal or
conjuring after-thoughts of the rising odour
of wet earth after rain. Precise petrichor
still ensnared in its verbal roots once
the sodden aromas of all places fade away.”
The poem plays with meanings, sounds and allusions. The second section of poems are less constrained and introduce characters such as Joyce’s Anna Livia and Dicken’s Mr Pickwick. “For True Love Waits” considers distance and separation, two people in different cities,
“In your city, the traffic halts
for pedestrians. The pathways
filter rain, each slab of pavement
spirit-levelled the same.
In my city, the lorries, cars and bikes
show passing acquaintance with lights
and brushing familiarity with walkers.
But by these we are not divided.
You say love is not chasing but waiting.
I am waiting in traffic, again.
Not for a single moment the same
the waiting heart beats the same.
Love is not the residuum of absence,
but what remains after you have gone.
And what we shared as our breaths
mingled in the smaller hours,”
The addresse of the poem is in Tongli. The speaker is in Durham. The former seems organised and respectful, whether the traffic stopping for pedestrians or the level pavements. In Durham, the drivers show zero consideration for other road users or pedestrians in their hurry towards a destination. Stuck in traffic, the speaker thinks about his partner. Love is not found in their separation but in what each remembers, the lingering sensation of the other.
The collection ends on a sequence, “Political Poem 2.0”. Part VI,
“I say poetry is
But I had not yet
to sit at a table and
drink a glass of water,
watching clouds pass.”
Poetry, regardless of the poet’s intent, is often read as autobiographical in a way that fiction isn’t. Whenever the lyrical “I” is used, some readers assume the poet is speaking which isn’t always the case. The opening two lines suggest poems are not read for the reader to escape their lives yet the remainder of the poem undermines this. The reader has not matured to understand how a simple pleasure: stopping for a drink of water and watching, being present in that moment and noticing only what is happening in that moment allows the speaker to temporary ‘escape’ other pressures and concerns. The next poem, VIII, observes a desert hawk,
“For you know
there is neither
beauty nor play
and nothing, truly
Water is life, both its source and the force that keeps life going.
Thoughout “and then the rain came”, water is literal, metaphorical and sustaining. A force that enables life, weather that revives the natural world and sustenance, not just physical but spiritual and mental. Edward Ragg has created a pamphlet of complementary lyrical and narrative poems linked thematically but experimental in approach, using language as a fluid probe.
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.