Emma Lee reviews a first – but, sadly, posthumous – collection by Linda Lamus

lamusA Crater the Size of Calcutta 
Linda Lamus
Mulfran Press, www.mulfran.co.uk
ISBN: 9781907327261
59pp       £9

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The poems in A Crater the Size of Calcutta give the impression of a compassionate poet interested in the stories of others, both domestic and from far-flung shores. The title poem is about sharing time on an allotment with her father and how the sensation of a certain taste sends her back there. Tellingly, it appears two-thirds of the way through the book, after poems that take the reader from New York, back to Europe, taking in Marrakesh and San Francisco. “Walking to the College of Criminal Justice” starts with a man singing I am a Turkish man / living in New York and his observations,

I see the man who manages the bagel shop 
on Queens Boulevard. He is translucent, like a pool
of water. I could swish my hand

through him and out the other side
with barely a ripple. I feel 
New York has everything and nothing.

Far away, the Chrysler building rears,
a crazy minaret pointing to places
where I will take a leap of faith,

places where an infinite number of pigeons
will sing to me of love. But, now, I've passed
my exams; my time here is almost over.

Everything passes. One morning I'll be laughing
somewhere else, flinging my arms wide
and singing songs of love.

This poem is full of experience and vitality but also transience, a sense of moving on to new discoveries. In constrast, “The Consul’s Dog” knows the permanence of being faithful. The consul’s suit is as tight as a widow’s wedding ring. Shiraz is the dog’s name and the poem ends,

The Consul's wife smiles, flatters dinner guests;
they are barely aware that he is late again.
When he strolls in, Shiraz detects the faintest scent
of perfume about his clothes, beneath the smoke,
the spicy odour of the streets.

Late at night, after whisky
or a glass of mint tea, the Consul walks his dog
to the sea. She waits while he swims to the rocks

and she, too, forgives him.

Without spelling it out, the poem leaves the impression that the Consul is happiest during those light night swims accompanied only by the unconditional love of a dog who demands nothing of him. A sense of the weight of responsibility is apparent in “Mother’s Fox”

I hesitate to finger it, lying in its tissue lair,
the war-bombed cardboard box.
A silver V-clip clamped beneath the glassy jaw
draws back the lips. Fear in vixen eyes –
perhaps a trick of winter light?

The faded fur, a feast 
for hungry moths. And, underneath,
the rustle of my mother's voice:
"Don't touch my fox." I hardly dare
to breathe. Even after all these years
I cannot wear it –
who would choose to bear
the weight of the dead
around her neck?

Sadly the last few poems draw their inspiration from time spent in hospital. Part-way through her MA (which was awarded posthumously), Linda Lamus was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Even here, the poems look out rather than in. “Flowers” ends

The flowers
are his gift.
I bury
my face
in their cool
music

feel 
their dampness
on my skin.
These flowers –
these 
are his 
words.

The final poem, “Package” ends evocatively Last of all, you reach a cypress branch./ Look. I am the shadow watching from the stars.  A Crater the Size of Calcutta introduces a compassionate poet, revelling in imagery and words; and the book is a tribute to a lost talent.

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Emma Lee’s third collection Ghosts in the Desert is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing. She reviews for London Grip, The Journal and Sabotage magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com