Two recent Shoestring collections from Anna Adams and Tony Roberts earn the approval of Merryn Williams

open doorsdrawndarkOpen Doors: New Selected Poems by Anna Adams (edited by John Killick)
Shoestring Press   ISBN: 978 1 907356 96 4   £9

Drawndark by Tony Roberts
Shoestring Press   ISBN: 978 1 910323 08 3   £9

 

The late Anna Adams’ work, says her blurb, is ‘not as widely known as it deserves to be’. Precisely. Hundreds of good poets are not widely known, while a very few people hog the very little attention which the media gives to British poetry. Older women, in particular (she was born in 1926 and died in 2011) are not ‘sexy’:

Past fifty, past that five-barred gate
I shall not climb again,
my dazzled eyes appreciate
the beauty of young men.

The first verse of a fine and original poem, ‘Knocking On’, regrets this fact of life.

I knew Anna slightly and always admired her skills. She rhymed beautifully; she created brilliant images. She celebrated all kinds of life on earth, such as butterflies and sunflowers, and (in a particularly memorable poem, not reprinted here) ants. She was good at reproducing the voices of ordinary people. This volume includes work from five collections.

Should women poets write only about ‘women’s issues’ or about wider ones? Both, of course, but women are certainly making up for centuries of silence by boldly going where no man has gone before. ‘Scarp Song’ explores a mother’s deepest fear:

My two strong sons skate out in one small shoe
treading the polished water ….
All my love’s work sits in that far white boat,
trusting the smiling traitor

The ‘personal’ section includes a poem which is apparently about the loss of a beloved but oppressive husband:

GRIEF,

but also relief
at being set free of an Angry Old Man of the Sea
who had at last dismounted, or lurched off
from my shoulders where he had perched
so lightly as a stripling years before.
I am no longer his donkey. I straighten up
and look about me, thinking uncensored thoughts.
I need no longer hide my separate mind,
for I am free of his bridle
and his mistaken conception that I am his mother.
When I had children he wanted to be one too,
so he mutated into the difficult eldest:
the jealous one. And when the children were grown
(but after some carefree years of comradeship)
he grew down backwards, to a mansized infant;
white-haired and angry – and who can blame him for this? –
because of his increasing helplessness.
I should have left him on somebody-else’s doorstep
and ridden away on the shoulders of a toy-boy.
But I was restrained by that painful thing called love.

*

Shoestring Press is publishing some excellent poets. Here is an example from Tony Roberts’ new collection:

I want to show my daughter Life
and so I take her to a play.
Being eight she makes a steamy choice:
The Beggar’s Opera by Gay.

And then in moonlight afterwards
she lays her things beside the bed:
a fallen lock of Macheath’s wig,
a programme doomed to lie unread.

We talk of why they love Macheath,
those ladies of the demi-monde.
She says, ‘Because he brings them gifts’.
And I, ‘Because he’s tall and blond’.

She takes my hand in both of hers,
reprising Jenny Diver’s role.
The knowing little minx is right:
possession is what warms the soul.

He coins some strange words like ‘drawndark’ and ‘smokefall’ and takes us to some strange places – pre-revolution Russia seen through the eyes of Tolstoy’s wife; Matthew Arnold visiting New York. Cicero is here, and John Berryman, and some Dutch painters, and all the great Victorians at the same time. But the poem, too long to quote, which strikes me as really astonishing, is ‘The Bubble’. The speaker is shocked out of a trivial argument with a friend by the sight of two little girls intent on their game:

I ducked to let the bubble coast
when all above me like a host

of seraphim the bubbles there,
held soft formation in the air,

yet quivering like souls, all hope,
spherical films of air-filled soap,

eager and perfect in their way,
hovering towards Judgement Day ….

One day these girls will put by their toys,
their bubble guns and pursue the boys

and we will be what we will be:
bladderwrack bubbles on a raging sea.

Don’t fight about nothing, is the message; remember your mortality. Two life-enhancing collections.