“From This Soil” Casey Bailey (The Broken Spine) – book review

Casey Bailey From This Soil pamphlet cover

“From this Soil” is an exploration of roots and family branches told with compassion and humour in that way that widens beyond the personal into stories to be shared. A mother’s laugh in remembered in “She Rattles in the Spice Cupboard”,

“She still sings from the jars
of the spice cupboard.

I am learning to warm
like cayenne; sweeten
like cinnamon in bulla cake.

I will sprinkle her flavour into lives
and their jars will rattle.”

Cancer took her but her warmth and cheer live on in nurturing foods seasoned according to her recipes. Proper comfort food is replicating a loved one’s specific mixes and her memory lives on.

As his son runs from the house pointing at a helicopter, “The Air” acknowledges that not all children have the same fortune, a boy in Palestine, runs out of his home with

“binocular eyes, heart imploding
with euphoria
screaming:
Mommy!
A plane!
A plane!
A –

While his own son can safely run about in the garden, a boy elsewhere doesn’t have that option. How do we explain to children the dangers they face from air strikes, war, other people? And how do we reconcile our consciences with such differences in children’s lives? The Palestine boy simply wants to show of his knowledge that the thing overhead is plane, a new word for his mother to be proud off. But she is full of fear. In England, boys are safe to point out planes.

Threaded throughout are poems that return to the lost of the poet’s mother. In “Once”,

“I lose her every time
I expect her face in a crowd
every time I’m sure she’d be
proud, I lose her.

I find her too,..
in the jumper sleeve
pulling tears from my face,
in the eyes of people who
miss her, I find her. On these
days I know. She did not die
once.”

Grief returns when least expected. It surfaces in moments when you want to tell someone something or know they’d appreciate knowing, in a movie scene, over a coffee. The poet posits that you never truly completely lose someone, they continue to there as your life journeys on.

In “Fifth Time Lucky”, after a mother has run through all the names of her son’s siblings before arriving at the right one and asking for a cup of tea,

“When I hand you the mug
and you smile thank you
I will fill with the warmth
of tea in my stomach.”

The son, annoyed at his name being forgotten and the inconvenience of being called to make a cup of tea, finds his mood lifts when his mother thanks him. A small gesture of gratitude completely changes the flavour of the day.

Elsewhere a tough sister, in “Smoke”, is more than a match for anyone who dare disrespect her brothers,

“I witnessed my sister back the beef
with only a Nokia 5110 as a weapon.
I watched her break
the ariel off on a boy’s head top
for stepping on her little bro.

That same girl turned broomstick to katana
in the house. The chores will be done before
Mom and Dad get home. I can promise that.

The last time I got a phone call from death
I said do I need to call my sister?
He hung up before I could press the button.
Lord knows he doesn’t want that type of smoke.”

I can imagine her organising hell. While the strength of character is admirable, it’s also sad to think it will meet structural and societal inequalities that will attempt to tone it down and control it.

“From this Soil” is a compassionate look at how family roots nourish and shape us. Casey Bailey’s poems are self-aware, conversational in tone and humorous, inviting readers to laugh with, not at, their subjects. The characters are recognisable and the pamphlet shares their lives, like striking up a conversation with someone you’ve sat next to in a pub or cafe and discovering how much in common you have.

“From this Soil” is available from The Broken Spine.


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.


“The Queen Mother’s Rebel Cousin: Lilian Bowes Lyon and The East London Blitz”, Roger Mills’ book features quotes from the reviews I wrote of Lilian Bowes Lyon’s poetry.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.

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