Kat Soini is favourably impressed by a debut pamphlet collection by Maria Apichella that is both inclusive and challenging

paga-pamphlet-thumbnailPaga 
Maria Apichella 
Cinnamon Press
ISBN: 978-1909077577
32 pp     £4.99

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The first poem I read from Maria Apichella’s pamphlet Paga, was ‘Margate’. Why? Because the author nudged me in that direction, correctly deducing from my postcode that it would resonate. It did. And yet, ‘Margate’ is perhaps the poem I liked least on this collection. Which is not to say I disliked it. Indeed, the pink and white sweat of candyfloss and the billowing light of the Turner Gallery will strike a chord with anyone who has navigated the contradictions of the seaside town. But the almost disassociated ‘moments in time’ feeling of that poem seems out of place amidst the visceral intimacy of the others.

The real strength of the pamphlet comes from the uncompromising and often uncomfortable way in which it weaves loss

There is a sickness in me. I clench
for what I cannot do, cannot say.

with humour

his old moustached dignity almost intact.

whilst staying deeply human, deeply humane, throughout.

Religion – and even faith, though its presence is more tentative, less willing to lay its cards on the table – is not so much an undercurrent of the collection as it is the boldly rolling river that carries it home. On the pages, Abe (an old bastard) and Sarah (a flat with space for more), exist side by side with a bickering Scrabble game full of laden words of belief and origin.

Your nationality sits on your head, several treasure troves 	deep

the author observes, and I know exactly what she’s talking about and how little it means, in the end.

The ‘East – West’ dialogues dotted throughout take the theme of identity even further, introducing a new aspect to the exploration of loss and discovery – of meetings as the pamphlet title suggests. I read these poems in their designated place, interspersed as they are throughout the pamphlet, and then I read them together, one after another. The latter approach worked better for me, allowing a more coherent narrative to unfold, although as meeting of cultures is rarely so well-defined and complete I can understand why these snippets of verse have been dotted amongst other stories. Again, the blend of hard truths

The window of your country 
reads ‘vacant’ but the front door
is locked by a code.

and humour

Try this. Curry served in Yorkshire 
puddings.

is underlined with hard-won hope that comes out of survival.

Love is a dog that pounces on fear
and bites and breaks it apart.

Indeed, for all its honest exploration of the more painful aspects of the human condition, it is these patches of light that really lift the collection for me. Whether contentment found in solitude

If I smoked, 
now would be the time.

I’d put a sock on the alarm and light
up in my room with no windows;
yellowed breeze-block, pocked with blue-tack.

or in family

Distant, present
as the night-time moon, 
rolling
like my father, grandfather, 
year after year
from warm beds.

it sustains amidst the darkness.

By far my favourite poem on the collection is ‘Shalom Bayit – Peace at Home’ which is full of lines that I will probably end up unwittingly plagiarising at some point – they’re just that good that you can’t help but wish you’d written them yourself. I admit a terrible affection to imagery using the human body in general and was thus sold on the opening lines alone

You’ve got Pentecostal hips.
They swing and spin me
like a prayer none but God
was meant to catch.

and halfway to love (lust) by

You’re a congregation of Anglican
veins: weaving red secrets deep
inside the moving map of your body.

This is a collection deserving, and necessitating, several read-throughs. It doesn’t mollycoddle the reader, but it does invite them in, unflinchingly opening doors many would prefer left shut. I for one will be a regular visitor.

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Kat Soini is a Finn living in the UK, trying to keep a foot in each country but often falling somewhere in between. An over-educated academic by day, she’s been writing fiction and poetry for a long time and is finally getting organised enough to actually put it out there for strangers to read. Recent publications can be found in poetandgeek.com, The Missing Slate and Glitterwolf. A geek at heart, she is fond of all things otherworldly as well as woolly socks, cats, tulips and cinnamon-hazelnut coffee. Kat blogs at https://katsoini.wordpress.com