Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review from David Caddy on the Tears in the Fence blog

Cora Greenhill’s The Point of Waking has more than a whiff of D.H. Lawrence and that is no bad thing. She draws upon female saints, goddesses, mythology, circle dances and Christian worship as part of the backdrop to her book. Cretan agriculture has been in decline for some decades now and she registers the changes. A profusion of herbs and flowers, sheep stuck at a well bottom, women toiling in the garden, displaced people and creatures, populate the book’s foreground and give it a wide-eyed focus on contemporary Crete.
Greenhill’s poems explore the wild places and natural world of Crete in a deliciously sensual and lived way. Her suggestive vocabulary and cultural accretions energise moments of being and life’s cycles to produce a pungent and elemental poetry.
The slub and slap of the waves were only
a restless ally to my toss and turn
that clammy night, and dawn had a dull veneer.
Stubbornly aching back and blear
from broken sleep, still I stumbled to the water,
as I had resolved, to swim. On surfacing
I catch a flash, a splinter of sea, a glint
like glass in air. Then, alchemically distilling
his perky form from black pumice, bright fisher king
surveys his day – with me alighting in it.
Her poems are wonderfully grounded in the physical, the working and dancing body. She reveals a pointed picture of modern Crete with its multifarious and changing tourism, migrants and refugees from Africa, Serbia, Pakistan, and is alert to both ritual and the stories of labouring men and women as they harvest olives, herbs and other crops. A poem rich in detail about a Pakistani illegal, who walked through Iran to Greece and hides in the mountains ends: ‘The thyme is on fire, seething / with bees’.
The raw and cooked are nudged along through nuanced and succulent language. The poems probe, elevate and mark boundaries.
The yellows: rabbit brush, cliff rose and snakeweed.
Browns were onions, oak bark and tea.
Deep red was juniper, but most precious of all
was a pink from a shrub called purple bee.
These grains were so few, they were kept in a skull
of a grasshopper the wind had spun in. And we’d ask
and ask, what were rabbits, what were bees,
what was a snake, and what the colour of grass?
I am proud to have published several of these sensual and deeply felt poems. They are quirky and live on in the memory.
David Caddy 13th August 2014

Endorsement from Jay Griffiths

Jay Griffiths is the writer who has given us the extraordinary books 'Wild' and 'Kith' among others - a radical visionary for our times. I'm so honoured that she's read and appreciated my book!
 'your poetry is more something to be eaten than to be read - and I mean that as a compliment!  They have a sensory field around them which you can almost taste.  And they have a generous empathy, whether it's for the architectural past, or for an abandoned wife.  And the language is so precise and vital (my heart/kites/for you)'.

Review by David Harmer in Orbis

My thanks to David Harmer for this interesting review - so great to be told things that your collection does that you'd never realised!

The Point Of Waking by Cora Greenhill
52pp, £9, Overstep Books, 6 Hallwell House, South Pool,
Nr Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 2RX www.overstepsbooks.com

These poems are told with acute observation, rooted in landscapes and in people. The opening piece, ‘Unhinged’, like so many others, is closely textured, layers of narrative knotted together with densely packed rhyme, assonance and alliteration. It also introduces major themes, running throughout the book: the juxtaposition of natural forces against the human condition, and how the former often outguns the latter. In a house, during a fierce gale:
You must fight to fend off its force /while you clamp the stiff catches closed again,/ wrench and secure the latches
I liked this very much, and other poems continue its investigations. In ‘Borders’, a young Pakistani gardener in Crete is on the run from the authorities as he searches for sanctuary. His insecurity and sadness is contrasted with the permanence of the land he is so carefully tending. The poet displays a forensic accuracy when she lists the plants surrounding him: ‘beds of rose bergamot, cinnamon trees / five varieties of sage’, but he cannot stay; he has no papers.
It isn’t just flowers. In ‘A Local Habitation and a Name’ (doffing her cap towards Norman Nicholson), one voice lists many birds and butterflies that exemplify a natural order of things, while a second voice asks ‘will their names outlive them?’, a pleasing expansion of technique as well as a pertinent question.
Other pieces are set in the colder landscapes of Derbyshire, and again, the metaphor works. In ‘Burbage Edge In Snow’, her frailty is ruthlessly exposed against the powers of the natural world: ‘as I, with nothing to cling on to, felt sick /at the skid I could see coming.’ She is also interested in exploring ideas to do with the ageing process. Sometimes we can win a battle or two; here is ‘Nil By Mouth’: ‘this ballooning / happiness, held on a rope of grief.’ But eventually we can’t. The process is as natural as the plants and animals that populate the collection. In ‘Your Love of Wild Horses’, she says, ‘You’d shrunk so small by then / you’d slipped the halter of your life with ease.’ Some poems take on another tone, such as ‘A Sport of Water’ where the narrator watches a loved one wind surfing off the coast of Crete. Inevitably, it invites a comparison between Penelope and Odysseus as well as displaying a lightness of technical choice:

but how my heart/kites/for you

I also enjoyed ‘Seen In Sheffield’ where a group of boys are doing parkour and their exuberance and cool is captured: ‘This / is what boys are: poems freed in air’.
Possibly some will question linking the natural world with immutable truth, and opposing it with a faltering humanity but that is Cora Greenhill’s message, one expressed with passion and technical skill. In the end she is right; our name may not outlive us.