Friday, February 10, 2017

New review of Far from Kind

My deep thanks to D.A. Prince for this review, and to Orbis for publishing it.

RHYTHMS OF HUMAN WARMTH: REVIEW BY D. A. PRINCE Far from Kind by Cora Greenhill, 76 pp, £9.99, Pindrop Press, Mallards,
Steers Place, Hadlow, Kent
Cora Greenhill’s name is well-known because her poems appear regularly in a range of magazines (Orbis 169) and I thought this had given me a sense of familiarity with her work. My mistake. Previous piecemeal acquaintance with a handful of poems was scant preparation for the richly-coloured language and energetic rhythms that drive Far from Kind. It travels through Ireland and Nigeria, Crete and the Peak District, having a constant engagement with people and their way of life. The book proves the bonus of reading a full collection, and concentrating entirely on one poet. Open to ‘the mysterious kindness of strangers’ as much as to her own family, Cora finds colour and texture wherever she is: ‘down here on the cracked heel of Europe’ (‘Borrowers’); ‘Like butterflies with folded wings / pinned primly on the bay.’ (‘Dhows’); ‘... Burbage Brook ...freckled with amber light that flickers through oaks / like half-remembered dreams’ (‘Starting with Rivers’). She is drawn to the natural world, to those who live closer to it.
‘Nature Cure’, its three-line stanzas packed with detail, could be an account of her own childhood as well as providing guidance on child-rearing.
Neglect your child. Set her free to find home in bogs brash with marigolds, cuckoo flowers, harebells in heather.
It’s a celebration of positive neglect, the kind that allows for learning about personal relationship with the rhythms of Nature, knowing: ‘to slip a hand under the Maran’s downy breast / for warm eggs ...’, or which neighbour will give her ‘A curl of new kittens to hold.’ This is the Ulster of Cora’s own childhood. Yet ‘For My Firstborn’ turns unexpectedly from all she had loved about life in Nigeria:
I loved the hypertension before the rains, lightening that electrocutes the blood, maps the night sky with mercury,
ignites yellow bulbs in paw paw trees


and where six of the stanzas begin emphatically ‘I loved ...’, to build a pattern of intense engagement, but end with a final couplet in strong emotional contrast with the quatrains:
And I left, to be with your father, make and love you.
Her instinctive response to music and dance rhythms, particularly West African and Cretan, shape her choice of language, such as in the ending of ‘To my Firstborn’, letting the simplicity of monosyllables reveal the elemental in love. It’s most effective. In ‘Dancing in Zanzibar’, she is ‘looped / into the tunes / feet hips hands / unable not to dance’. With ‘Single Parent’, she shows the mother dealing with a toddler’s tantrum by ‘...turning the rising / rage into a tarantella no one had taught her, / whirling, to stop herself hurting him.’ The shifting rhythms between the poems give the collection variety and energy, a human warmth that she has encountered in every country she has travelled - and she travels with her eyes open.
In a world increasingly reduced to computer screens, smartphones and virtual experience, we need poems like these.