Emma Lee commends Wendy Pratt’s adroit poetic handling of a painful and sensitive subject
The title and title poem refer to a form of shipbuilding that dates back to Viking times, building organically from overlap planks nested together to keep water out. Those journeying in the boat prayed for safety:
bed down and wait as fishermen must do. The span is pouring through to Helheim. Pray the hull planks overlap, they land.
Helheim is the Viking version of Hell. The boat is a metaphor for pregnancy with prayers offered for the safe arrival of a baby. It’s a useful and appropriate metaphor: pregnancy is a journey of faith that, by following medical advice, doing all the right things, ends with the baby, unseen but growing in the vessel of its mother’s body, arriving safely. Sadly, Matilda, the baby in these poems was stillborn. In “And Her Great Gift of Sleep” part II
Shipwrecked on the bed, I feel for her; anything, a sign, anything. I’ve missed her tidal shifts, the turn, the underwater tap-tap, of deep sea exploration. Far away, the bubbles; the dulled sound of inside sounds is receding. She is drowning. My little sprat, my gill-less fish, slippery-slim and flexible, my squid, my jewel in her mermaid’s purse with her tiny feet, that are a perfect miniature of my own, has stopped nudging me, has stopped.
The my little sprat is a faint echo of Sylvia Plath’s “You’re”. However, Wendy Pratt’s poem is steeped in the sense of drowned, buried treasure. The sustained metaphor stops the poems becoming sentimental or too personal for universal appeal. The enjambment steers the poem forward. It’s deliberate that the only lines which end in a full-stop are She is drowning and the final has stopped. Here the poet is both trying to understand her loss and reach out to explain that loss to others. Despite baby Matilda’s loss, life carries on, even through grief, in “Gran Canaria 2011”
My head has become a basin of ground shell pieces and the Atlantic stretches us clean, wiping our old shelves away. The only anchor is the cool of your palm, the slap of cards on the hotel table, the murmur of voices, falling like gulls from our conscience.
Grief sometimes feels like being in a glass box: you can see and sense the world around you but feel as if you are at one remove. It can separate couples. Here, the couple anchor each other, albeit with cool hands rather than warmth but there’s a sense this couple will survive. That survival is touched on again in “Cayton Bay”
… Tucked together, we hold hands, leave our voices in the curl of bone-shell, muffled to outsiders. We have teetered on the edge, but turn, now, away from the edge, hold hands; our love muffled.
The strength of the pamphlet lies in both its sustained metaphor and the sense of movement: it doesn’t dwell solely on Matilda’s loss but shows a couple adjusting to that loss and developing a new life without a longed-for baby. It’s that movement that makes these poems more than a personal record of grief but transforms them into poems that communicate and reach out to readers to explain that loss and suggest recovery. We’ve long communicated through stories; and the weaving-in of Norse mythology with the contemporary story of loss makes these poems resonate long after the book is closed. The pamphlet is an ideal vehicle for them. Stretching and adding fillers to create a full-length collection would diminish their strength. Collecting these as a sequence within a collection could cause them to be overlooked as they jostle for attention. Grouping them in a pamphlet gives them their own space and shows how successful their interlinking is.
Emma Lee’s Ghosts in the Desert is available from Indigo Dream Publishing. She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com and reviews for The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews.