Fiona Sinclair is convinced by the authenticity of the many-sided love poems in a new collection by Maggie Harris

maggie harris60 years of Loving
Maggie Harris
Cane Arrow Press  (http://www.canearrowpress.com/books.htm)
£9

 

 

This is a collection that refreshingly deals with all the different types of love that enhance a life. As such it suggests that all love whatever its source should be equally valued. Poems therefore focus on affection for children, friends, partners and place.

Threading through all the poems is a love for place. This begins with memories of the narrator’s Guyana childhood. In poems such as ‘Coming up for thirteen’ we are presented with a childhood in what seems like a perpetual summer set against exotic flora such as the guava tree’ There is a sense of freedom as younger sisters jump hopscotch on hot concrete. Whilst much of the poem deals with the joys of being a child, there is also a sense of the thirteen year old girl in seersucker shorts and toe nails of bougainvillea being on the threshold of adolescence. Other works focus on the love and lusts associated with being in one’s teens and early twenties. In these poems, love for place and people becomes intertwined. I particularly liked the narrator’s roll call of past lovers from this period. The beautiful boys who are often simply yet effectively described by their eyes:

except for your precious eyes.
They were jewels. Van Goghs. A sea of pupils

The language is deliciously sensual and renders well a woman’s sexual longing:

And all my body wanted
Was to be kissed
and kissed
whilst I died in his arms.

The emphasis here is on young love, its over-whelming passions and physical explorations which seem to be abetted by Guyana’s glorious colours and sunshine. My favourite poem here is ‘Cleopatra herself in all her Glory’ – particularly the opening which focusses on a woman having an affair who, far from feeling guilty, is instead empowered by the sense of her own potency. Here a conversational tone mixed with dialect and fine use of enjambment, effectively reveals the pleasure the narrator feels at this recalled indiscretion.

Whilst the beautiful boys in the persona’s past were indeed feckless, the poems show this doesn’t matter. The narrator, even at such a young age, seems fully aware of their deficiencies and is simply enjoying their beauty. It is as if such liaisons are a part of a learning curve, preparing the narrator for the more mature and enduring relationships of later life. Music is deployed well, becoming the sound track to such affairs. Leonard Cohen and Neil Young are both referenced, along with the more traditional music of the country. This, mixed with the rich rhythms of the writer’s own dialect, enhances the sensual mood of such poems.

The landscape then switches to the UK and more specifically Kent. The second section of ‘Stop all the Clocks’ becomes a love poem to the county. Evocative names such as Margate, Broadstairs, resonate. The skill of the poem lies in its careful use of lists that build to create a rich picture celebrating Kent’s charms. Its history is emphasised in the litany of castles and ramparts, Martello towers, smugglers haunts which create an air of mystery and glamour. The description succeeds in making Kent seem as rich as Guyana in its own way. In these works the unique landscape of hop-poles like stiltmen is blended with sensory images of Children’s mouths full of strawberries reinforcing the idea of Kent being the garden of England.

As with the Guyanese poems, this fresh setting is populated with new friends. In ‘The season of Hands’ the persona embarks on a long walk with a group of women who knew the way. Her reason is given as in order to know this earth my feet walked it. What transpires, as well as a sense of place, is the narrator’s love of the company of women, whose wisdom ranges from exocets to names of flowers, a companionship reiterated in other works. The poet skilfully adapts her Guyanese tone in many such poems, the language and idiom becoming much more anglicised and clipped. In other works her native dialect is strategically deployed to reinforce a sense of being up rooted creating a longing for the country of her birth.

The final setting is that of rural Wales. Initially there are no love poems to this wild landscape. Quite the contrary what emerges is a sense of the narrator being transplanted to a wilderness that is unwelcoming. This is best seen in ‘The Moaning Poem’ that blends wit with sadness as the persona bemoans a landscape where gardens are wild and beautiful, with slugs black as tyres. Yet even here in time the persona learns to love the new setting evinced in poems such as ‘Stop all the Clocks’ and ‘Hawk’. Here the writer again skilfully adjusts her imagery to match the bleak beauty of the area.

The ‘Welsh’ poems are predominately populated by a lover who is more mature than the Guyanese boys. I like these poems for their realistic portrayal of love. The loved one is not idealised. He is presented flaws and all. Unlike the boys of her past, this man is as she says physically no Bruce Willis. However there is a genuine tenderness in the description of domestic intimacy (I think this as we share tea and biscuits) that chimes with a middle aged reader such as myself. The poem ’How do I love you?’ builds on this idea by giving pedestrian reasons for the poet’s love such as I love you for your stubble suggesting the often ordinary reasons why we have for loving someone.

This is a collection that will resonate with all generations, charting as it does 60 years of emotional life. Love of all types is presented with rich imagery and a seductive combination of Guyanese rhythms and conversational asides.

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Fiona Sinclair’s first full collection Ladies who Lunch was published in 2015 by Lapwing Press, Belfast. She is the editor of the on-line poetry magazine Message in a Bottle.