Emma Lee follows Carolyn O’Connell through her thoughtful poetic explorations of links between past and present.
timelinesTimelines
Carolyn O’Connell
Indigo Dreams Publishing www.indigodreams.co.uk
ISBN 9781909357532
66 pp   £7.99

The title poem shows a strong sense of the narrator’s place in a present that is affected by both the past and the future. The poems are not pretentious: their tone is often conversational, showing a desire to communicate and share. They have an awareness of the impermanence of the present, the influence brought to future generations by past and present generations and how traditions can be continued or broken. In ‘Timelines’ the bride honours the past whilst thinking of the future.

As a woman I stood on the steps of
this Pugin church Newman dedicated –
studied by my past walled in the school
he built centred in fields of a lost village.

I’m ringed by my friends, family and maids
beside me a man who would be my future,
waiting to escort me to my tomorrow.

In a similar vein, ‘Traces of Time’ follows a watch from my grandmother’s Edwardian ruffles to My mother, her orphaned daughter,/ wore it pinned to her suit and

Gave to me
I tied it to my wedding dress

the face turned revealing a disk
of silver, tiny chased flowers,

links of gold string so small
only a caught hair reveals them

Now it lies with its chain curled
like two bodies folded together,
in my daughter’s white bag
that I hold for her

as she walks towards
the man who waits at the altar.

The watch becomes more detailed when in the possession of the present generations.

The poem’s subjects don’t just confine themselves to the domestic. A central grouping of poems explores themes of war, from ‘Silent Ones’ which acknowledges the unsung heroes from past wars – the mathematicians, geeks, technicians who weren’t hero-worshipped like the soldiers but nonetheless played their part in ensuring the war was won. ‘No Nation’ looks at current conflicts and the role of the United Nations. It ends:

The boy moves towards the cornflowers
seduced by a colour he has never seen
the quiet of the day, the warmth of the sun;
as he approaches the flowers become men.

He stands transfixed by fear they wear blue
helmets, these men have every and no nation…

The poem captures the curiosity of the boy, tempered by fear when he wants to explore the novelty of what to him is a new colour, but then sees it worn by men in a military uniform. Elsewhere, ‘Petals’ is a more traditional memorial poem:

A single lily broken from its stem:
the petals curling back to expose
stripes of softer scarlet hidden within;
the anthers were heavy with pollen,
the pistils ready for a wing’s brush;
now they would never bear fruit.

The image of the lily is a fine sustained metaphor. Carolyn O’Connell also writes about memorials to civilian disasters, including the Ladbroke Grove train crash. In 1999, a turbo diesel train passed through a red signal (SN93) and crashed into a passenger train travelling in the opposite direction during the rush hour. Unfortunately the diesel fuel in the passenger train caught fire, resulting in 31 deaths, including the two train drivers, and more than 520 passengers sustaining injuries. The subsequent inquiry found that the newly qualified turbo driver’s training had been inadequate and that the siting of the signal combined with low autumnal sunshine meant the driver would have seen the signal as amber, meaning safe to continue, although the signal was actually red. Both train and rail companies were fined for health and safety breaches. A memorial garden has since been set up near the site. ‘Not a Station’ ends,

Along the perimeter wire rags flick languidly
as wings of perching birds, lifted
by slowly moving currents of a pre-storm heat
before flying over Trelick Towers.

Only the whistle of an unseen train
on the line below the memorial, the wilting flowers,
breaks the stillness as it passes signal SN93
speeding towards Reading or Oxfordshire.

The crash is echoed in the image of pre-storm heat as well as referenced directly in the name of the signal.

Timelines shows a compassionate, thoughtful poet using carefully chosen imagery in response to both personal and universal subjects.

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Emma Lee has published Mimicking a Snowdrop (Thynks Press) and Yellow Torchlight and the Blues (Original Plus). She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com and is a blogger-reviewer for Simon and Schuster. She also reviews for The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Review magazines.