Lana McDonagh’s “Hope is a Silhouette” is a series of observations on love, desires, inner-lives and everyday life. Each is accompanied by an illustration by the author. “Night-Time Confessional” sets the tone, “Some things I only say in the dark/ To the ear of the sickle moon” while the poem’s addressee could be a lover, could be the narrator,
“As you breathe in
As you breathe out
My night-time confessional
Uttered under the somnolent glow
Of a heavy velvet sky”
The final image could be ambigious. It could be the sky is dark and oppressive, spreading gloom. Or the focus could be on the “heavy velvet”, luxurious and opulent, hinting at dreams of desire and not necessarily for love. The confessions could be as much about hopes and aspirations. Although in Paris, in “The Lock-In” the theme is definitely love,
“If we could just make it out
……from underneath the sheets
Sheets that were not our own
……but had become
Entangled, linen witnesses”
It concludes, “There was Paris/ But all I cared about/ Was you”. Two lovers still in the honeymoon phase cannot be tempted by all Paris can offer. There’s no suggestion this is a lockdown poem, the lovers’ isolation from the city is voluntary.
The emotions of desire and want surface in “Before Me” where a lover’s skin has become dusted with snow, “A pure white expanse/ Muddied by another’s boot” but the mud is not a deterant just a signal,
“and a primal need for virginal landscapes
I want to traverse your cities
And climb your mountains
Leaving my flag triumphantly at the highest peak
I want an avalanche to lay a fresh sheet of future
So I can hear my weight
As I tread upon the past”
Not just a desire to explore but to find space that obliterates memories and markers of others. Someone who wants to erase the past and move on, forging her own way rather than following the footsteps of others.
In the title poem, “Hope is a silhouette” is a refrain starting each stanza.
“Hope is a silhouette:
A telephone ringing
Bricks and mortar shaped for living
A gambler in the throes of winning
The dawn chorus singing
Floral buds springing up
in between slabs
of solid, grey concrete”
“Up” interrupts the passive rhythms of “living”, “winning”, “singing”, drawing attention to the delicate buds before the slap of concrete. Hope is something that thrives in cracks. It’s also undefined, a blank outline for people to project onto. Those slabs are also a reminder hope can be ephemeral. That telephone call could be bad news – the formality of “telephone” suggests this isn’t a friendly chat. The house is “shaped for living” but not yet a home. The gambler hopes but is more likely to lose rather than win. Those who hope might appear to be deceiving themselves. There’s another liar in “The Theatre of Contorted Reality” where “You have so effortlessly distorted/ and remoulded yesterday/ Until it has become your truth” which is like,
British weather and
just another lie
Waiting to be uncovered”
Three things known for their unreliability, yet the poem’s addressee clings to their version of what happened, persuading others that their version is the truth. But who’s to say the observer’s version is anymore reliable?
“Hope is a Silhouette” is a contemporary, empathetic look at life, particularly love and desires. Lana McDonagh explores how hope can become two-edged if ill-defined: it can keep a gambler hooked on his downfall, it can make a building look like a home, it can consume lovers and trick them into isolating themselves from a wider world. It can be as in/fallible as memory. Slender but thought-provoking, like a song you somehow keep noticing in the bar, on a passing car radio, an advert’s anthem that becomes a soundtrack to life.
“Hope is a Silhouette” is available from Wordville.
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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