Jane Kirwan welcomes the latest collection from Caroline Natzler – not least for its intriguing ambiguities

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Caroline Natzler
Hearing Eye
Isbn: 978-1-905082-72-8
35 pp. £4

 

For those who have been already delighted by Caroline Natzler’s poetry, this collection is long overdue; and for new readers it must be a joy of a discovery. Fold is her third collection and it’s not a full one but, thanks to Hearing Eye, at least we have this to be going on with.

Each poem is sharp and intelligent, and together they combine to conjure a familiar world made quirky and original by the way Natzler interrogates it – although ‘interrogate’ is probably too pompous a word. These poems are anything but pompous; it’s a world, a life, that’s being scrupulously examined and all observations qualified, then qualified again.

The title poem might be a clue to the whole collection (and then again it might not):

When human doings seem slight
and you stand alone on a city bridge…

will you notice a bird swoop on sharp white wings…

will you turn
fold yourself back into the crowds, their gossip and mobiles.

One sense of fold crops up as a delightful image in ‘Becoming’ as the poet watches people at the beach, including a soft folded toddler busy at the froth. The toddler is investigating just as the poet is investigating. And both glimpse marvels:

It’s a world of the possible where people

…may look over an indifferent field
with scraps of cloth tearing on the wire fence

caught there by the wind, or tenderly tied.

And it’s also a weird one, where rain falls on ghostly plastic headscarves. This sense of weirdness seems to come with the scrupulous accuracy of Natzler’s observations. ‘The Turning’ traces a description of skin perceiving light from chemicals in the eye to the underground where the narrator gets her coat zip stuck and a young woman releases it: …and my winter pressed skin awoke / alert to every photon of her.

There are many poems here that echo into the ‘otherness’ that comes from living in a city; it’s not altogether a safe place:

…near the spiked railings where men lounge and bray
the berries are already fierce as blood
breaking out.

There are misunderstandings. The narrator’s grandfather was jumpy, because he was in a camp./ I knew about holiday camps…

There’s a constant self-questioning as the poems move from first to second then third person; and this gives an eerie feel of identity slipping, and then searching further. The wound is life and it has to be scratched but the healing might be poetry itself. Or it might not.

…life about to be illumined in one universal idea

but it all kept coming
speckly, befuddled, and mangled with oddness…

It is a life of striving as well as making compromises, but there are moments: A woman …gazes out at all the flurry of spring/kisses her own bare arm the way she did as girl.

The self is questioned, there are solutions, there is living, and there is writing to survive living This crafting of rococo shelters and there is ultimately more joy than resignation:

After all

Is this what it has come to,
the long and tortuous search for meaning

that autumn leaves now rushing gold to the ground
should fill me with pointless joy.

Even so, the whole collection does work towards a certain kind of resignation; but this sometimes implies a transformation. Here is Natzler in ‘Life’s Work’:

Less need now to cry out your life in art

as if you are finally large enough to contain
your darkness and your blazing

or to recognise how small you are
and how it doesn’t matter

though it seems to matter that you see,
picked out in slant autumn sunlight

three white gulls
perfect as porcelain

coasting on shaky reflections in water
already murky with evening.

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Jane Kirwan has had two poetry collections published and co-authored Second Exile with Ales Machacek and Born in the NHS with Wendy French.