Locust and Marlin by JL Williams
If Locust and Marlin were a house, estate agents would describe it as ‘full of character’. Some of its rooms are cluttered with possessions and photographs, each with their own story to tell, while some are clean and full of light. The corridors that link these rooms are ones we all walk down, deciding how and where to live, and who to share our lives with. Edinburgh based poet, JL Williams, asks us to consider these questions in a beautifully
structured second collection which, before we even get to the poems meets us with its gorgeous matt cover, a lino-cut I think, by the printmaker Anupa Gardner, which is soft to the touch and introduces us to the sensuous
world Williams creates.
There is a sense of theatricality to the collection and poems featuring a heron bookend the collection like stage curtains. “Imagine a great silence / whose wings touch no branches. // Imagine a space demarcated / by lack of sound.” [‘Heron’]
The backdrop has a mythic quality to it with a hint of bluegrass. There are underdogs and survivors who, like the fishermen in the book’s titular poem, “were diagnosed one by one with disease / or crippling forgetfulness or pains / brought on by the drag of time’s bright lure.” And eexist in heady, dreamlike imagery in ‘Sargasso Sea’: “Whose angels arewomen confined to river water, / Their hair green wool / Spooling in gin-clear streams.”
In her epigraph, Williams quotes Gaston Bachelard from his seminal The Poetics of Space, a book on every art student’s reading list, that I was very happy to be reminded of and revisit through poems considering shells and spirals. “One dreamer thought a shell was made / by a creature turning somersaults, each turn / a room for the home.” [‘Creation’] And securing the collection to the ground and in the body are stones, wonderful stones. “But don’t you gold? / Do you quartz, crystal?” [‘Stones of the West’]
Williams is an enchanting reader of her work and a frequent collaborator and, having recently seen her spontaneously perform ‘Stone Song’ from this collection with a guitarist playing at the same event, I would highly recommend seeking her out and hearing her voice.
Reading Locust and Marlin put me in mind of the childhood game, blind man’s bluff, having a scarf tied over my eyes and being spun by the shoulders. Images lap and weave together like the cover image and poems like ‘Locust King’ and ‘Waltzer’ feel vertiginous as they pull us up and away from earth, inviting us to look down at both the beauty and brutality of life, but all the time we are in safe hands and are shown moments of serenity, direction and, above all, love. “I left the world to find the world that we had lost / and lost the world again, as one must, perhaps.” [The Veil]
Locust and Marlin, JL Williams
Shearsman Books, RRP £8.95, 80pp