Emma Lee identifies skilful accumulation of detail as one of the strengths of Clare Crossman‘s new collection


Vanishing Pointvanishing point
Clare Crossman
Shoestring Press
ISBN 9781907356919
45pp, £9


Clare Crossman is adept at writing about landscapes in a way that makes them feel real rather than just inanimate backgrounds, as in the title poem:

Under my feet silver coins were discovered
in the parsnip furrows. There is nothing to fence
me in but air and a sky.

Out here in the world it is just an ordinary day.
Somewhere behind me a window opens
and ditches trace the edges of the vista.

Wires sing along the hedges;
in the distance two horses canter away
through the long grass at vanishing point.

Her landscape is far from tame and an air of anticipation is maintained throughout. The narrator is alone but still aware of her connection to others, whether whoever is opening the window or the horses, the history, the silver coins. Other poems focus on people, as in “Zarrin”

When she left she gave me the dress.
It rustled lilac on its hanger, shimmered
with her stories; the histories of Caliphs
and silk routes, her love of the city
where her father made chairs from
cedar wood and traded them with China.

And I wanted to travel, to see
the clustered towns she talked about.

The accumulation of details and the refusal of the lilac dress to stay static build a picture of exotic places and readers can understand why the narrator wants to travel. Accumulation of detail is also used to good effect in “The Dance Downstairs.” The narrator is living in a flat above a hotel.

Along back corridors I learned
to craft illusions: folded napkins into fans,
turned icing red, polished glass to crystal,
made dance floors into bowers.
Carnations were for weddings, lilies
for the dead. One winter the rain came in,
water rose in the cellars, broken chairs
and wine bottles floated to sea.

The details show the precariousness of illusion, not only of the folded napkins and polished glasses making the room grander than it was but also the illusion of control. The flood washes away both the broken chairs, probably a bonus, and the wine bottles, possibly an expensive loss. There’s an expansive sequence, “The Night Ship” which has an epigraph from Anne Sexton and is set in a hospital. In “Admission”

The night nurse walks the corridors
in soft-soled shoes, in case someone
reaches for a razor, tries to swallow the moon,
or chooses to fall into blackness forever.

The wind in the trees outside
is a strange lullaby around those
who sleep in starched white sheets.

The patients here are observed, not judged. The sequence ends with “Verity” who muses

‘There is not much difference between light
and burning, when you think about candles.’

Clare Crossman’s poems invite readers to become willing witnesses of the lives of the people who inhabit her poems. They are carefully sculpted and their gentle tone and rhythm allow readers to observe and bring their own experience and conclusions to their reading.


Emma Lee’s Mimicking a Snowdrop is forthcoming from Thynks Press and Yellow Torchlight and the Blues is available from Original Plus. She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com and is a blogger-reviewer for Simon and Schuster. She also reviews for The Journal, Elsewhere and Sabotage Review magazines.