House by the Sea, Jennifer Copley.

£4.00 UK post free. (ISBN 978-0-9540913-7-8) Arrowhead Press, 70 Clifton Road, Darlington, Co. Durham, DL1 5DX

This is not a dull book - it contains some powerful writing about a range of fundamental emotions: a child's jealousy of a new baby, yearning for a missing partner (in absence/draw his face in my head, / remember his walk-through-me hands), guilt, grief, horror at the deterioration of someone loved (It's too far to walk to the house / where my father imagines vultures - / talons with his name on them). I wondered about the range of writing - too exclusively rooted in her own experience? Not enough variation in the subject matter or sufficiently wide terms of reference? It seems clear that Copley has concentrated on how to approach an experience in her life in the most arresting way, in the most powerful language (as U.A.Fanthorpe calls it on the back cover "urgent, visceral work"). She has also thought hard about how to shape a short poem – powerful opening, powerful ending. Some of these work very well:

In the end, she dies of it   (opening line of Haunt)

as if she's trying to reach our Mother's bones   (last line of My Sister's Visit)

His orders are to fill the house with roses   (first line of Sleeping Roses)

On killing days, she hurried home from school.   (first line of Pig Farm)

The events/feelings dealt with in the poems are by no means 'run of the mill': 'when she died, he threw her clothes / into the sea, still attached to wooden hangers' 'he flung her shoes to the flames' (Escaping). Nevertheless, there is something repetitive about the organisation of the book, and I wonder if the poet hasn't perhaps already realised that something more is needed? This need may be expressed in a degree of over-writing (why should a grieving man be described as 'pale as a musician' and what does it add to the poem Escaping to end with 'His chest trembled over the fire/but his heartbeat was his own property'?) A possible approach to opening up these themes would be for Copley to distance herself more from episodes in her own life and to try to construct longer narratives or thematic sequences. She clearly has the ability to take her poetry further.

Dilys Wood - Second Light Newsletter

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Last modified: March 28th 2005