Merryn Williams comes across a first pamphlet collection by Camilla Lambert and already looks forward to seeing more …
Camilla Lambert, who admits to being sixty-nine, belongs to the generation of women who expected to get married in their early twenties and remain married for life. It didn’t work out like that for everyone and in ‘Acting my Age’, which is especially interesting, she describes how a teenage girl dressed like a middle-aged woman, in her twenties longed for a nice man to pay the mortgage, and finally, as a middle-aged woman, broke out. Doing different things is exciting and maybe damaging. In ‘Falling Woman’, she says, ‘I have been falling all my life’:
I have been falling for so long anyone can read my history on my skin written in stains, inky blotches and scars. Once-blazing bruises fade to grey hints, fault-lines of plummetings from the past. Each new fall adds random decoration.
Several of the poems in this short pamphlet (her first) describe the normal trajectory of a woman’s life – death of parents, birth of grandchildren, upheavals and the passage of years which leave marks on your skin. There is deep anxiety about babies and children who are born prematurely or go missing or are somehow under threat. It’s interesting to reflect that there were very few good women poets before the three generations who are living today. That perhaps is because few women were educated enough and/or experienced enough to write frankly.
One of the best poems in the collection is the prickly ‘In Praise of Thistles’, which celebrates resistance to stereotypes:
Cast upon the earth to puzzle and resist, a thing despised, lower than a dandelion, bracketed with tares and thorns, punishment food for Adam at an angry God’s insistence, warriors in bristle armour whose sharp stabs belie domestic names: Milk, Cotton, Distaff, Sow, what use are thistles, porcupines reborn as plants, scourge of farmers and bare-legged children? Hold out a finger, feel the cushion-softness of their flower-heads, be kissed, seduced, see how sun makes crowded petals shine bright like amethysts decorating a crown, how orange pearl-bordered fritillaries search for bliss, frail wings held back from tearing, watch how a charm of goldfinches, feather-light as thistledown, pecks at the seeds and flashes red, yellow, black. Honour the persistence of thistles on wasteland and wayside, their proud defiance.
Ugly things can be transformed into good poetry and I hope to see many more poems from this author.
Merryn Williams was the founding editor of The Interpreter’s House. Her third collection, The First Wife’s Tale, was long-listed for the Welsh Book of the Year; a fourth collection Letter to my Rival was published by Shoestring Press in Autumn 2015. Her biography, Effie: A Victorian Scandal: From Ruskin’s Wife to Millais’ Muse, has recently been turned into a Random House audiobook.