Poems in this collection by Owen Lewis make a lasting impression on Wendy French
Evening at the door my dead father comes in as if he can cloak himself in the shadows
This poem is the one that really stays with me (many others do too of course and once you have read the book you will understand why I say this). Marriage Map is a mesmerising read. It is a wonderful collection of poems about life and contentment and loss and memory. It is also about commitment to people and writing.
And after all, when we arrive at a certain age this is what life amounts to, loss and memory and commitment to both loss and memory. How we look back and also gather strength from the present is what makes us the person we are to be. And Owen Lewis has such precision in his writing, such crafted control, such emotional impact that that his readers can’t fail to be drawn into his poetry and to love him for this work.
Marriage Map is a testament to creativity and emotional survival. It follows Lewis’s Best Man, the pamphlet written about and dedicated to his brother who died at an early age. Some of the poems from Best Man appear in this book and add weight to the content and sentiment.
So, I hear you saying, what makes Marriage Map so special? One of the poems gives an answer:
…in the noisy scatter of the “you’s” and “I’s,” you’ve got to learn the sounds of their voices. [‘The Map: You and I’]
and throughout the poems of Marriage Map we hear and learn about Lewis’s voice. It is sincere, it is reaching out to us. It is saying to us ‘This is how it is and I encompass it’. This is Lewis’s voice and life. He istrusting it to us to listen to him and hear. These poems are important. He is letting us in to his innermost feelings.
The poems are sometimes painful to read. There is one section where after reading each poem I had to put the book down before I could go on. But this is life. Life throws everything at us and Lewis is not afraid to confront this aspect of being.
…the lawn sprouting flags, the kids naked, sprouting wings, their chins and bellies dripped with melting blue and red ice-pops. I run after them, can’t catch them, Ever, any of the moments, can’t catch the moment…
I thought the poem ended here and sat and thought and then I turned the page and there was more to come.
…if I could see the moments of mistake… [‘Estate’]
Aren’t there regrets that we all have? And how many of us would be brave enough to voice them?
A Gett is a divorce document in Jewish religious law and is presented by a husband to his wife to give her freedom from their marriage. The poem with the title The Gett is divided into ten parts and marks carefully the stages of Lewis’s procedure to divorce his wife. The ten stages give space and pace around the poem in order for the reader to breathe and digest exactly what is happening. We are there in the court room with Lewis. We are his witnesses. His wife has declined to attend.
The Gett is written on a sheet of paper or parchment or hide, not related to anything that is still attached to the ground – like a fig leaf like the side of a tree… my witnesses… make sure she grasps the letter well, tucks it under her thin arm and walks with it a full-body length into her future.
This is poetry with a truth that is imparted to us and gives us permission to voice our own truths. Each poem has a lyrical precision that ensures it rises above self-indulgence and sings to a tune for all of us to indulge in and empathise with and be part of and thankful for.
In this collection I read every poem twice before moving on to the next one. This gave me time to enjoy the nuances and subtleties of the language. Words can never fully explain exactly how we feel. We have to devise many ways to portray our emotions and Lewis does that expertly here.
Marriage Map is a book I shall return to again and again. It shows how anger, despair, self-doubt can all be conquered in the end through love, faith and a new way to live. The last section of the book ‘First Waltz’ ends with optimistic happy poems. Lewis has found new love and is no afraid to celebrate. They are full-of-fun, optimistic poems about what life can offer him now.
Water like Honey Water like honey, Bread like meringue – What has come over me? All day I’m holding your hand Or I’ll float away.
Wendy French’s latest book is Thinks Itself A Hawk – Poems from UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre
(Hippocrates Press 2016)