“Latch” Rebecca Goss (Carcanet Press) – book review

Rebecca Goss Latch book cover

Throughout “Latch” Rebecca Goss explores family relationships, particularly those between mothers and daughters, and how a childhood home can frame us, linking us to landscape and memory. Motherhood can be bittersweet, a child grows from total dependence into an independent adult. A successful mother makes herself redundant. In “Nest” mother and daughter watch a swan’s eggs hatch into cygnets until a return visit where they,

“to find a family gone. One,
unhatched, remaining.
Its marble lonely in the bowl.
Your hand slips out of mine

as you bolt to waiting swings,
leaving me with the egg, and all mothers
who lay their babies down, knowing
they cannot stay beside them,
must lower their own bodies into water
and continue with the swim.”

The daughter is not interested in the static egg so runs off to swings. The mother is aware of what the egg signifies. The swan had to leave and focus on her living cygnets, who in turn in time to come will leave her. Swans mate for life. Humans intend to but it doesn’t always pan out that way. “The Farm” records children’s feet put “into plastic loaf bags fixed at the ankles with elastic bands” ready to walk through flooded ground to the house (not yet our house). Months pass until the narrator, dropped off by the school bus returns, walking past her mother,

“her long phone calls, her crying. Children nestled, dirty, barefoot.
Her shouting. Her transformations. Wellies kicked off to wear

the night sky on her feet: peep toe, diamanté studded heels, with bow.
The most beautiful things I had seen in my life. The swirl
of her black silk Marilyn Monroe dress, her marriage almost over.”

Living in the countryside is a hard slog made harder with small children and a husband’s erratic presence. It’s not revealed who those long phone calls were to, but clearly she is finding someone to talk to in her husband’s absence. Motherhood too can feel like a lost of identity, even a loss of name as a name is replaced with someone’s mum, or even just mum. No surprise that now and again, mum wants glamour instead of wellies. A chance to be herself. The last night suggests the husband/father did not accompany his wife. Their separation already begun and may well have started in the move to the run down farm.

The poem that gives the collection its title, “Your Thumb at The Latch”, as the latch’s click lets the narrator know which room the father and child enter,

in a motherless

my body upstairs
in warm,

quiet water
knees raised
to study

last week’s
bruise, touching
the blue hurt

in a state
of absence,
heart set

to know you
between rooms.”

The womb-like water of the bath offers space for the speaker to heal before returning to her child and her child’s father.

Throughout, some poems return to the poet’s childhood home. Here, “Woman Returns to Childhood Home, Remembers”, a drunk mother being brought home by her husband, she still carries

“a glass bottle, quarter full
and sloshing. I wanted her
far away, back out in the field

where the dark could wrap
round her, ease her into sleep
until I woke her in the morning.

I’d have food in my bag,
we could eat breakfast
in the high grass and she

could plait my hair beneath
the oak tree, acorns forming
above us in their cups.”

The daughter may not yet fully understand what’s happening between her parents but she knows they are not happy together. The daughter desires to keep them separate, to not see her mother drunk, but to imagine her sleeping it off and going to wake her in the morning. They could eat and mother could plait her daughter’s hair. The final phrase, “in their cups” could suggest drunkenness but the implication here is that mother and daughter are drunk on each other, cementing their relationship.

In “Gate” the speaker watches her own daughter return home,

I must look old
and not extraordinary,
her skin the truest surface
wanting to kiss her
as she drops
her bag, turns,
every atom of her
near me, and I
make my slight
gesture, feel
the quickening.”

The speaker resists the temptation to smother her daughter, recognising her growing independence but savouring the moment.

“Latch” is a quiet, studied exploration of what ties us to home and the shifting role of motherhood, from being mothered to becoming a mother. The poems are an intimate sketch of family life from a child’s view and then a mother’s view, that use the personal to make a broader point. We are shaped by our parents’ actions and our landscape. The country with its floodwaters, weirs, rivers to swim in is as much a character as the people. Water nurtures in warm baths and drinks, and also cleanses. Rebecca Goss invites readers with a poised engagement and rewards with precise language guiding the reader through the accumulation of details to cross the threshold.

“Latch” is available from Carcanet.

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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