Emma Lee finds depth in a slim volume of poems by Jacqueline Gabbitas  small grass Small Grass Jacqueline Gabbitas with artwork by Frances Barry Stonewood Press ISBN 9781910413005 48 pp £7.99

Small Grass is a shorter sequence from a book length poem, The Book of Grass and is accompanied by artworks by Frances Barry created using inks and crayon. Its starting point is that grass would be a timeless witness and keeper of memories, if only it had a voice. In these poems, a voice is granted, e.g. in ‘Grass sings to her roots’

Man thinks these are the colours of air and water, of light and freeing, but before this they were ours: our blades are green, our lowly stems the red of poppies, pink of damask, our rhizomes white as redemption. And you, my loves, are palest yellow like the long memory of sunlight from a rainbow on a glacial floe.

The accompanying image is of a grass root extending upwards into a blade. The subtle rhymes give the poem a structure and the poem builds an image of time before, and potentially after, man. This sense is echoed by the passive images, particularly the glacial floe. The voice given to grass is one of inevitability, not one that is going to grapple with, or agitate about, the damage done to earth’s ecosystems by man. There’s an underlying assumption that grass will evolve to survive. That assumption is backed by science. Grass developed a system of channels in its blades to extract carbon from the atmosphere more efficiently as sedimentary limestone formed. Limestone can also extract carbon, effectively becoming a competitor. This instinct is explored in ‘Grass answers Mountain about her time of dying’

In his heaven above the withering trees, god looked across and marvelled at your new-born stone, stone of sediment and the carcass of the sea and the ocean it sucked the very carbon from the air – and he whispered in my ear, grass you must evolve; look to the stars, imitate the blackest hole and draw in all life. Mutate, grass, mutate to survive.

In ‘Grass discovers metempsychosis’ Jacqueline Gabbitas returns to Plato’s description of men drinking from the river Lethe to forget so their souls could be reborn in a different form, exploring the choices of forms made:

But the trees only started it. Man looked around and choose nightingales, otters, lions, teachers, kings. and all the flowers – the small man who chose flowers – fritillaries, roses, nightshades, forget-me-nots, lilies. But the first chose trees: long lives, stationary. None chose mayflies, none grasshoppers, none grass.

There is a consistency of tone throughout. The brief notes, tucked away at the back of the book, suggest extensive research but this is worn lightly in the poems so, where scientific terms are used, it is still possible to read the poem without having to stop and refer to a dictionary. Grass’s voice is one of non-judgmental experience that you’d imagine belonging to an impartial historian confident of outliving man’s destructive attitude towards nature because it has seen dinosaurs come and go. Small Grass is a gentle, thought-provoking collection.

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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, London Grip and Sabotage Review magazines.