Wherever We Live Now by Elizabeth Rimmer and Love-in-a-Mist by Anne Connolly
At a glance these poetry books from Red Squirrel seem similar: both first collections dominated by themes of the history, tradition and landscapes of Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. But early on the directions of these books diverge and the two voices that emerge are distinct.
Elizabeth Rimmer’s language is carefully crafted with an attention to detail, a subtle cadence and internal rhymes that carry the reader along. The first third of the collection is crowded with poems that offer fine descriptions of nature and demonstrate a lyrical clarity. ‘Granary Cottage, Wexford’, for example, “This cottage/ where the wild and human have to co-exist/ on terms I didn’t set, and can’t control,/ is alien now, and not quite wonderful.” On occasion Rimmer stretches her voice and style: ‘Poems to the Sea by Cy Twombly’, for example, is a ekphrasic poem which falls short in its attempt at a translation of Twombly’s art. ‘I Said’ is the most successful of these – a spontaneous poem with a freshness to the language.
Legend and folklore run through much of the work whether it be Icelandic saga in‘Hekla’s Country’, or ‘The Voice of the Carnyx’ in modern Glasgow. However poems that re-tell the Orpheus myth are segregated at the end of the book. These are energetic poems, not so much a sequence but ‘multilayered’ as Rimmer herself describes them in an expositional introduction. They work well where Rimmer creates a contemporary context, for example, with Orpheus the musician as a rock star: “Let the music simmer,/ It’s rohypnol to her./ Boil it up to candy height,/ Melt her thighs like fondant –”. It disappoints when, at times, the poet reverts to well-worn images: “there’s gold and feasting, girls with green velvet,/ and music, light and joy”. A more hands-on editor may have chosen to leave out some poems to give the stronger ones more space, and may have dissuaded the use of different font sizes throughout the collection, which many readers will find distracting.
Anne Connolly’s Love-in-a-Mist is a collection with a strong, spirited voice; much of the work here is political but it always engages with the human aspect of any situation and her clarity of language forms a well developed argument. Connolly loves the aural crash of full-rhyme and plays of sound, often echoing songs or chants. I imagine many were written with performance in mind, ‘So much for the ceasefire’ for example: “We’ll give him a six-pack./Ankles bang-bang/ knee-caps bang-bang/ elbows bang-bang./ To go any higher would/kill him bang-bang”. This is from the middle – and probably strongest – section, featuring poems on war and conflict; those regarding the World Wars sit alongside ones on Agincourt, Sarajevo and her native Northern Ireland.
‘Begun’ is one of three poems that uses its shape as a way to convey meaning. But here it distracts from a heart-felt address to a frozen embryo: “Little one just begun/ multiplying and dividing,/ hide in the helix of your worth/ count on still-to-be fingers that birth/ will be the outcome of your growing.” In ‘Handler’ names of constellations and Norse gods are scattered across the page at the end of the poem reminiscent of concrete poetry. Connolly further varies style in ‘Job Description’: afound poem highlighting hypocrisy. The first section of the book explores birth and childhood, and the last section covers love, death and much in between. But there are a few superfluous poems here. As with Wherever We Live Now, a more decisive editorial hand may have improved this collection. However my overriding impression is that Connolly is a poet who has a point to make, a story to tell and the musicality to reel you in.
Wherever We Live Now
Red Squirrel Poetry