For Graham Hardie, the poems of June Hall engage authentically with human experience
Uncharted is a heartfelt collection of poems, dealing with subjects as varied as still-birth, friendship, family, illness and God. It is a well produced book divided into 10 sections and seems to draw many diverse aspects of the author’s personal life, including the complications and difficulties of living with Parkinson’s Disease. It is a brave book in which June Hall allows the reader to share experiences of pain, loss, grief (and some glimpses of happiness) in quite an intimate way. This is due to her forthright and accessible poetic style. The poetry is simple and is not lost in a bog of intellectualism. Moreover there are examples within the collection, of a poet at the height of her poetic skill and creativity.
On any voyage one needs a map, a sense of direction, a will to navigate and the key poem which allows the reader to do this is ‘no rehearsals’:
Why mortgage your life? No policy stops the shuffling or a deal of suffering.
In these three lines the essence of the sentiment in this volume is summed up perfectly. This can be seen in the very first poem ‘Mind the Gap’ which is about a still-born first son. This painful subject is addressed again in the following two poems ‘Dead and Alive’ and ‘The Surgeon’ and they give the author a platform on which to share and scrutinise her feelings about this terrible event. Hall asks the heart-breaking question “Mother or not?” in both ‘Mind the Gap’ (as the “nurses put yellow roses in your cot, wheel you away”) and also in ‘Dead or Alive’.
The narrator in the poem ‘Ever After’ tells us that “being just six/when my mother left, I thought I would cry forever.” Similarly in ‘A Family Silence’ we hear of a father who disappeared “all those years ago/when he tossed us out as casually as breadcrumbs“. In the poem ‘Non-Graduate’ this desertion is likened to failing his “BA Fathering” which the author describes as “sad”. Nevertheless, as often in this collection, disappointment and adversity turn to renewal – as in the poem ‘Voyage’ about husband-wife relationship: “All seemed to be over between us“ she states; and yet by the end of the poem the regeneration has begun as “new sails once more unfurled/a winter-flowering love.”
The author’s “family” plays a vital and central role in the poems – from grandmother, to mother, to father, to husband and daughter and – despite upset and struggle within these relationships – there is a persistent sense of hopeful optimism, turning a negative situation into a positive.
A battle with Parkinson’s Disease is a central theme in this collection. Poems like ‘If I had Pills Enough…’, ‘Pain at Midnight’, ‘What If’ and ‘Suppose’ all lucidly illustrate the daily struggle of someone living with this debilitating disease. She is “ambushed by shakes”, she “can’t convey/ to outsiders” the feeling of being “locked behind bars” and her speech “that bubbled/like a stream is no longer heard,” Frustration is acute and tangible in each of these poems and it is a mark of poetic success that the patient’s voice can be clearly heard through these pages.
As with all journeys, there are companions along the way. Poems like ‘Tim’, ‘Friends’ and ‘81 Victoria Drive’ all relate to people who have given support in the difficulties that Hall describes. ‘Friends’ deals with the nature of a particular friendship at different stages in life and it is neatly constructed:
23. You wear a long skirt and come To my do-it-yourself wedding; 30. I’m a literary agent now. You begin writing a book – 60. Life is good. We raise a glass to it Though you will call me young,
The enduring nature of this friendship is patently evident and the neat and inventive form of the poem, adroitly adds to this sense of endurance.
In my opinion there are 4 or 5 poems in this collection that really stand out for their endearing quality and show the poet at her best. They are ‘Inside’, ‘Blowing Cool’, ‘Picnic Moon’, ‘Riddle’ and ‘Eagle Wings’ and all have significant merit. Here for example is ‘Picnic Moon’:
In spring children are in bed When it sweeps through sleeping daffodils. Now, loose in a bath of autumn light The clear moon floats, flaunting its belly. Bright globes multiply on every lake – Peeping children sneak the fun of night.
Without doubt, the imagery and use of potent metaphor and personification bring out an exuberant quality in this poem, which I enjoyed immensely.
My only criticisms of the collection are: 1) it feels slightly too long (105 pages) and 2) some of the rhyming seems poorly done, being too basic and too forced. For example in ‘Wild at Sixty’, “led” rhymes with “bed”, “party” with “tarty” and “slower” with “goer”. This complaint applies to a number of the poems and slightly detracts from the obvious quality of the rest of Hall’s work. But, despite this, Uncharted is a praiseworthy collection, which succeeds where some contemporary volumes fail and manages to convey human experience in a genuine and distinct poetic voice.