Emma Lee reviews a new six-author anthology of poems

Woven Landscapes
Avalanche Books http://www.avalanchebooks.co.uk/
ISBN 9781874392804, 

Woven Landscapes is an anthology of six poets, Roselle Angwin, Wendy French, Katrina Porteous, Anne Caldwell, Kaye Lee and Katherine Gallagher. Fewer poets mean there’s space for several poems by each poet which gives a reader chance to get a feel for what a body of work might be like. There’s no introduction and no sense of why the anthology was compiled. The landscapes are both internal and external, often with the external reflecting the internal for example in Roselle Angwin’s ‘For What Remains Unspoken’

In the damp courtyard
the tabby cat strolls towards two fat magpies
puffed with cold
who eye her and don't move.

This is how it will happen eventually –
perhaps rainclouds, perhaps evening –

perhaps you hold still, let
the starlight fall down on your face
let the darkness come.

Magpies are intelligent birds who know the tabby isn’t an immediate threat, but they keep watching. They know movement will attract the cat’s attention so they keep still. But they will be ready to move if the situation changes, e.g. if the cat does become an actual threat. Similarly, the ‘you’ of the poem holds knowledge still, lets it weigh her down until the right time to release it. Wendy French’s ‘Untitled/Unamed’ also looks at held knowledge, this time in the memory of how a plate got broken,

the old woman dusts
each plate
even the cracked one
dropped once

on purpose
broken repaired
reminds her
of when her body

craved sun
was beautiful

and how much each day hurt then

The poem doesn’t reveal why the plate was purposely broken but it acts as a reminder that attention isn’t always good and offers comfort to someone whose faded looks render her less visible.

The landscapes aren’t just domestic: Katrina Porteous’s ‘Space Telescope’ looks outwards.

Exquisite machine, your tinfoil
Wings, your booms' mosquito lightness,
Carrying our human hunger
Into the perpetual silence –

Intercede for us. The mountain
Cocks its ears, the wilderness
Of holy madmen strains to listen 
For a song beyond extinction.

Anne Caldwell’s prose poems look at Salford with the unfamiliar device of a non-native puma, in ‘Salford (1)’

Her eyes reflected sodium glare, taxi hub caps, winking tower blocks and a Lidl sign. No one noticed 
her slide on her belly under galvanised gates to sniff the man's Harley with its chrome curves, fumes 
and engine ticking from a wet commute. The stitched seat was sleek and beautiful like this cat that 
searched for a place to sleep.

The detailed focus on the commonplace allows the exotic to be overlooked because it is so out of the ordinary and contrary to expectation. Kaye Lee’s ‘Building with Sand’ looks at expectations,

solid walls, sand packed hard as concrete –
not even a tsunami would knock it down.

Inside we made rooms, dragged in rocks
for tables and chairs, reeds to sleep on
and seaweed for curtains and blankets.
It was large enough for all of us

along with our yet-to-be-met husbands,
unborn children and grandchildren, friends,
relatives. We offered advice to our neighbours
as their castles fell each day to the tides.

The children allow their sandcastle to convince them of their own invincibility and confidence in their futures, while other sandcastles are demolished by the tide. Their plotted futures have yet to encounter obstacles that might push them in a different direction or lead to failure. Interesting too that the girls’ focus is on success in the domestic sphere: this is a homely sandcastle, not a science lab. Katherine Gallagher’s ‘Suburb’ (complete poem) also looks at domestic ambition,

Here the street-lights run in straight lines,
marking the road, the last bulwark against 
a wilderness of boxes, successors to the hut,
the tent, the lean-to – set before the elements:
bungalows, the townies's lot, slot, with space for a car
and patio.
                 Here within the moving borders,
the hours placed politely, inscrutable
amidst gardens, the odd lawn-mower still chirring
late summer evening before the dew comes down.

It’s noticeable that this domestic ambition is about conformity. The cars may be different but they are still tidied away in their allocated slot. It’s also noticeable that, apart from the lawn-mowers, there’s no human activity. The suburb is a place of retreat and of keeping things in their place.

What links the poems in Woven Landscapes isn’t just their theme but also craft. Unlike the bungalows in Katherine Gallagher’s ‘Suburb’, these poems are individual and have distinctive voices.


Emma Lee‘s most recent publication is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015) and she was co-editor for Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.