“Inscape” Kathleen Bainbridge (Vane Women Press) – book review

Kathleen Bainbridge Inscape book cover

Kathleen Bainbridge’s “Inscape” explores loss, acceptance and turning to look towards a more positive future. There’s a sequence that re-examines studying Lorca. Her aim is to invoke and create an image or mood in her reader rather than explicitly detail her subject, allowing the reader space to inhabit and interpret the poems. “To Curiosity” explores love,

“I never gave my heart to you,
you crept up close and stole it
from my shadow.

A Japanese calligrapher’s brush
creates both word and thing
each time anew.”

It’s a gentle poem. Here love isn’t the shivers-down-the-spine, head over heels variety, but the soft, gradual realisation that there’s a person you can’t live without. The soft vowels in the first stanza quoted echo its sense. The second quoted stanza looks at handwriting, more intimate than typed words, and how it’s never quite the same even if the same words are made. Japanese is based on pictograms so the calligraphy isn’t just words, but images. It’s an image of enduring love: you know this person, what makes them tick but even a routine day can create new memories, a new way of seeing something familiar which reinforces the love between them.

It’s a love that endures after death. In “Holdfast”, i.m. Bainbridge’s late husband, Bill Moran, starts with “you fold your hand/ into mine” and continues the idea of love despite small irritating habits, when he sliced bread,

“I have to hide my eyes. You wonder aloud
at the roll of a batsman’s wrist, the fine rain

of Misty’s glissando shimmy. My gold band
stays on your fingerbone under the ground,
I see you wave to me often, cheering me on.”

The present tense is used even though these are memories as if the speaker isn’t yet ready to let go. He still has his wedding ring, the ring she put on his finger. Despite death, he’s still a presence in her life, but it’s a supportive presence.

The title poem explores self-development,

“I parted company with myself without a sound,
mind clear as champagne racing up a glass
to overflow, then settling. It was cloudless,
blue as an Arctic summer, sharp as ice, angular
as winter trees – the feeling lasted years:
it burned so bright I never saw the ash
on all sides, the scorched ground,
the forest fires in the distance.”

We can’t return to the past and can’t live the same life twice. Living in the past traps us there nad becomes a form of disassociation, numbing us from the current day and removing us from new sensations and a future.

The “Looking for Lorca” sequence has an epigram from Bly suggesting Lorca as a secret friend, someone you read and carry with you. The second poem, “What Does Life Want?” imagines having a drink with an imaginary Lorca,

“What does life want? A touch of winter consoles the green fizz
of August trees, toes dipped in snowmelt from the Sierra.
The cathedral’s bulk echoes with shouts of unborn children
chasing you down the river and mutes the angel-boy who sings
for coins in Calle Boabdil. When silence
stills the bells and the moon comes out
its chaste rose will scent the night,
silver these streets.”

It’s evocative with specific details and packed with ghosts suggesting a fluid boundary between past, present and future. Even in the silence, there’s still movement as fragrance of the flowers fills the air. It’s a sensual poem that doesn’t offer an answer, allowing readers to figure it out for themselves, which implies that life may want different things from different people and that’s how it should be. Ghosts appear in the fifth poem, “The Crime was in Granada”,

“I see you moving among the trees,
I know your voice, the music that you played
when I was young and like a girl in a song
I run downstairs too late and find you gone.

There was another August night,
there was a car and you and others
travelling the moonless road to Víznar.

Your name was lost for years.
Out there on the hill your grave lies
in the dust beyond the olive groves.”

The first quoted stanza implies a game of hide and seek, the speaker knows the poet is there, it’s just a matter of finding him. The third quoted stanza mirrors this idea but this time there are fewer clues. The speaker knows the poet’s body is someone but its state of being hidden is more serious, the poet is at risk of being forgotten and remaining unfound.

After the sequence, the collection turns back to personal loss and a baker boy style hat worn by Dickens’ Artful Dodger and the speaker in “Me the Dodger” which starts, “I put it on, looked in the glass and posed,/ Get it, it’s you, your face behind me smiled.” The hat is worn through many good memories,

“In twenty years I lost it a dozen times
till it floated free of the car I drowned
in Devil’s Water one night and sailed away
out of my reach. I thought of you then:
the December day we put you in the ground,
it hid my face and kept me from the rain.”

The hat became a constant companion, even if it wasn’t exactly the same one throughout. Naturally it was part of her funeral outfit, protecting her from the weather and also the gazes of others. It allowed her a private moment as the coffin was lowered into the ground. A moment free of the worry of how she appeared or how others might interpret her expressions or tears or lack of.

Throughout “Inscape”, Kathleen Bainbridge evokes an inner landscape of sensations, of ghosts, of love and care by building images and invoking senses. The poems are meticulously sketched but allow the reader to focus on wherever draws their eye and draw on their personal experiences and perspectives when reading the poems. The overall sense if of quiet, sensitive poems build on layers of details.

“Inscape” is available from Vane Women Poets.

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.

“a girl in a blue dress” Rachel Burns (Vane Women Press) – poetry review

a girl in a blue dress Rachel Burns book coverThese poems present a wry look at life through a series of keenly observed vignettes, such as library where “all of us are here in this library/ because we have fallen down somewhere/ be it by pure bad luck, bad decisions or despair” and later in “Hail to the Library and the Thief” where a homeless man is searching for the newspaper he’d left on the reading table but is now missing,

“and I want to shake his head through the dirt and grime
but instead, I shake my head. He scrutinises my paper
glares at me, then walks away, shaking his head in disbelief
that in this library, the last vestibule of human decency,
lies a thief of a poor man’s broadsheet.”

Readers are left to ponder why a poor man would be so eager to read a Murdoch-owned newspaper, but there’s a principle at stake here. A venue that provides a connection for a disparate group of people and now someone has violated it.

Interspersed with observations of others are personal poems, such as a “Message to my 16-year-old Self” watching a film,

“the one where Richard Gere
carries Debra Winger
out through the factory gates.

I was that small town girl
waiting for the white knight
to come and sweep me off my feet.

Don’t wait, don’t you dare wait.”

The poem is also a reflection on the double standards dished out to girls. Boys are encouraged to lift themselves up while girls get taught that if they’re pretty enough or dream hard enough, their prince will come. There’s a mix of personal and external inspiration in the poem that might have inspired the title. The cover image is ‘Untitled (know as Blue Girl or Tess Dominski) by William Sommer (1867-1949 and the poem “Blue Dress” features a mother’s friend who makes dresses for neighbours’ children, this one “with upside down umbrellas// the pattern facing the wrong way.”

“She likes to finish the dress with you wearing it,
you stand head bowed while she stitches the hem.

Stone still, watching the needle and thread going in and out,
in and out, till she is done. You go outside and show off

your new dress to the others, playing hop scotch
and skipping games in the lane. Only you don’t join in,

you walk to the woods, towards the river, in your new blue dress,
with upside down umbrellas, the pattern facing the wrong way.

A pheasant spooks you out of your skin, hurling itself into the air,
the harsh rasping ricochets through the trees

the noise scraping at your insides, hurting your ears.”

The humiliation of standing in underwear with the treat of being pin-pricked if you dare more, the pattern being upside down – a suggestion the neighbour was a well-intentioned amateur – matched with the inability to join in games which are left to search for a peace that isn’t forthcoming ratchet up the shame of being poor and the sense of not fitting in. Home life didn’t seem to be much happier, in “Attempts on Dad’s Life”, Dad dares complain about the (boring) choice of dinner,

“She stabs him with the fork.

It isn’t an accident, another time
a small vegetable knife
a trip to Casualty for stitches,
there are countless attempts on his life

but still unheeded he enters the small
square kitchen, and we are helpless
to warn him as we sit at the table
like good little doll children.”

The children are silenced by intimidation and feel as if they are manipulated into playing a role of being seen and not heard. It’s not a family that allows its laundry to be washed in public. It’s also one where children don’t ask questions, which might have helped with the themes in “Catholic Girl Ghazal”, where Madonna is the singer and her song is about a teenage girl summoning up the courage to tell her father she’s pregnant by the boyfriend he doesn’t like,

“One by one, we all succumb to temptation, yet another teenage pregnancy
and the Catholic Church spits us out, slams the altar door, even Madonna’s

smile turns into scowl, we have brought shame on our families,
we are thrown like dogs into the street, a broken, fallen Madonna

and my friends say, Rachel, giving it up, you’re too young. I listen to Madonna
sing her silly pop song, Papa don’t Preach, and I laugh, but I keep my baby.”

More secrets are explored in “Ann (after L S Lowry)”

“Failing to please Mother he painted crowds of people,
the football match, the Miners’ Gala,

people gathered outside shops and churches.
He painted the mill towns, landscape and buildings

and people, always people. He hid Ann underneath his oil paintings.
He always returned to Ann. Her face haunting him night after night.

People often asked him, Who is this woman? Who is Ann?
His reply is evasive. As if he eluded the truth, even from himself.”

This poet, however, is not elusive. Rachel Burns’ characters are recognisable, their portaits built in a judicious choice of a telling phrase. She speaks clearly often in a confessional tone which interlaces innocence and experience, allowing key details to build an outline for readers to fill in. “girl in a blue dress” reaches beyond the personal, also telling the stories of others with compassion and understanding. No one’s the butt of a joke or a punchline here and characters are given space to not only speak but do so in their own voices. “a girl in a blue dress” is a strong debut.

“a girl in a blue dress” is available from Vane Women Press

Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AAThe Significance of a Dress book launch Leicester Central Library, Bishop St, Leicester LE1 6AA from 7pm. Free Entry.

Book Trailer at Arachne Press: https://arachnepress.com/books/poetry/the-significance-of-a-dress/.