Thursday, March 30, 2017

Review of Far from Kind by Mandy Pannett

Another lovely review for Far from Kind from Mandy Pannett in Tears in The Fence 65 (edited by David Caddy) - my warmest thanks!

Far from Kind by Cora Greenhill Pindrop Press 2016 £9.99

     Like the orchard in ‘A Hum’, Far from Kind is flooded with light. Here the poems are lightscapes – ‘changing lightscapes we came to call beauty’ (‘Aquatic Ape’), wealthy in gold and kaleidoscopic in colour. Here the sea may reveal ‘the glide of a golden angel fish / then blue spotted ray, / purple parrot, yellow batfish,’ (‘On Chumbe Reef’) or a skyline of birds with wet feathers where the fading day turns ‘mauve, dull silver, deepening grey.’ (‘Last Supper’).
     Far from Kind’ begins with a description of a house being cleaned and prepared for new owners. This involves moving a colony of nesting bees out of the loft, scraping the rafters of honeycombs, of their ‘stash of sticky gold’. (‘The Hum’). This poem sets the tone for the whole collection: the ‘stash’ on display is not just honey but an outpouring of richly sensual, evocative imagery. ‘The Other Hand’ offers us a fine example: ‘I have stirred the cream and the curd/sprinkled spices/cardamon, rose petals, cloves’ says one who has lived among the royal silver-smiths, ‘my skin is silky/as the suspension/of butter in sauce.’ The narrator in ‘Dancing in Zanibar’ is ‘rewarded/with cardamom jellies,/dates softened/in passion fruit.’ We, as readers, are also rewarded, not only with a gorgeous feast of words, but with the fascinating technique of an image personified into metaphor as, for example in ‘The Hum’ where the girl who is clearing out the bees finds ‘the mess’ transformed into a gift of love when she ‘trickles downstairs, slides into night,/belly brimming amber, trembling to be touched, to be tasted.’

     This sense of joy in language, this exuberant exploration of possibilities strikes me as the keynote of Cora Greenhill’s writing. Many phrases such as ‘bogs brash with marigolds’ and ‘harebells in heather’ (‘Nature Cure’) brim with the fun of alliteration or leap off the page with their aptness and wit like ‘lightning that electrocutes the blood’ (‘For My Firstborn’). Among my favourites, also from ‘Nature Cure’, are ‘a wrinkle of cream’ and ‘a curl of new kittens’ closely followed by phrases from ‘Dolphin Trip’ where ‘The bay foams with testosterone/at the first sighting of fins. Twelve speedboats scream/with love lust to spear them,/ snorkels cocked, zooms at the ready’. Opening and closing lines of the poems also show this deftness and precision with words. ‘We would green deserts for that smile’ concludes the narrator in ‘Hannah’s First Birthday’ while ‘Hit’ explores the poignancy of a relationship where ‘Free to leave, you left’ with these ending lines:

There was a time when people thought
smells like oranges and cloves
could keep disease at bay.

But sweets can’t take the pain away
though this is heaven’s scent.

     Others have commented on the images and themes of music and dancing in this collection. They are strong motifs and I would like to explore further the way in which ‘Voices sing words our world has never heard.’ (‘Night in the Museum’). In this deserted museum, closed for restoration many years previously, the marble floor is thick with ‘five winters’ of plane tree leaves, there are ‘wads of cobwebs’ and glass cases at twilight are grimy with dust. Yet above all this there are curves and spirals on vases and jugs that reveal ‘dolphins swimming, dancers arching’ and in an empty Bronze Age room ‘Sistrums/begin to rattle, harps pluck at our hearts.’ Similarly, in ‘For My Firstborn’ the narrator lists an assortment of things she remembers, many things she has loved including ‘drums hammered out from palm oil cans,/rattles of chilli peppers and raffia,/dance steps that vibrate/beyond the feet’. Possible the most striking and original motif of melody and dance is in the poem ‘Single Parent’ where the exhausted mother, faced with her toddler throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor, copes with her anger by ‘turning the rising/rage into a tarantella no one had taught her, / whirling, to stop herself hurting him.’ In these poems by Cora Greenhill it is not only sistrums that pluck at our hearts.
     There are many voices in Far from Kind including the not only human. There are many settings as well, some exotic, some everyday. There is brutality too, poverty, anger, hardship, an exploration of the seedy and cruel. Most of all, however, there is an overlay to these poems of love, joy and an exuberant relish for ‘the elastic stuff of life’. (‘Hannah’s First Birthday’). In Far from Kind people endure and survive, learn, as in ‘Aquatic Ape’, to see ‘skylight in each other’s eyes’. 

Mandy Pannett

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