Merryn Williams enjoys Wendy Klein’s colourful second collection.

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Anything in Turquoise
Wendy Klein
Cinnamon Press
ISBN: 9781907090745
pp 80 £7.99

 

Wendy Klein’s second collection is divided into poems about family history, travels in the Far East, and others. The first part is, for me, the most impressive. She writes about people who are not very far from the ghetto; a grandmother, married at fifteen, who spends long hours scrubbing freezing marble floors and hates her husband; her parents’ disastrous first meeting in 1939:

I see them tarting themselves up for the party where they’ll meet ….
and I want to say stop; you’ll destroy each other,

but I bite my tongue, just watch them walk away,
clinging to each other so tight that I flinch.

This section ends with a shocking, but memorable poem about a long-ago abortion.

 She is a child of divorce and her preoccupations with family and books come together in ‘A Short History of my Aversion to Libraries’. Taken out on ‘Daddy’s Saturday’, aged five, she is afraid she has dirtied her borrowed books and terrified of their lurid jackets:

Because you can die
in libraries, or get killed – so many books about it,

their covers bright with blood, body after body,
face down on the long, long tables:

a knife stuck in the back of one, bullet holes in another.
When I get a ticket for the Bodleian,

I’m afraid to use it; the book I’m looking for
is bound to be the one that’s missing.

She is also haunted by her ‘sisters in literature’, half-starved, fictional Victorian girls like Jane Eyre. She’s a flamboyant poet; colours are extremely important to her. Her daughter is painted in red, orange, gold, yellow and turquoise. A Mongolian child from a distant century is wrapped in a splendid embroidered garment in the vain hope of protecting her from death. Here is the whole poem, ‘Dressing the Dearest Child’:

A young girl, her nose pressed against the museum glass,
yearns toward the display of costumes sewn for the dearest child:
her dress of protection, the orange of Mandarins for sun-warmth
to keep her alive a little longer. Nearby, her mother sees
how she covets the garment, its flowers stitched in sapphire,
colour of calm, the splashes of poppy, the peplum spangled
with Genghis gold, shoulders padded, ready to receive the wings
that will carry her to safety when her time on earth runs out.
The mother watches her, leaning in, moves closer, tugs hard
at her hand, tugs her back from what she cannot grasp, the death
awaiting the dearest child, the brightly-coloured shroud.

Another powerful poem describes a little elephant which is dolled up in velvet, coral and pearls but then allowed to die.  The poems with a strong human interest (not that an elephant is human) appeal to me more than those which simply describe Asia or the desert. But the titles I’ve mentioned, and some others, are work of a very high order.