Emma Lee follows poems by Victoria Gatehouse as they take a sometimes clinical view of the journey from young woman to parent
Victoria Gatehouse’s The Mechanics of Love is a series of vignettes that loosely follow a rite of passage from teenager to young woman and parent. Not all the poems focus on a first person narrator though, which shows the poet’s willingness for engagement beyond the personal.
The seductive advertisement for a brand of perfume is examined in ‘Poison, 1986’,
Thirty seconds of decadence – drenched in patchouli, jasmine spice, plum-thick wanting her scent, her life – brazen dark-purple dynamite, not your own safe-sweet schoolgirl reek of gym kit and Midget Gems.
The schoolgirl is ready to explore a darker side of life and expand her knowledge beyond the safety of school and childhood. She acknowledges that the success of the advertisement doesn’t only lie in the perfume, but what it represents: the dreams and lifestyle being sold by the brand. The reference to ‘thirty seconds’ and ‘schoolgirl reek’ though suggest that the schoolgirl knows it’s only a fleeting sensation, a brief window of being someone else before returning to a more mundane, regular life.
Scent is also a feature in ‘Walking the Boulevard’ where a transvestite checks his reflection in a mirror,
that shameless slick of blue on lowered lids and a scent, like dead flowers, rising beneath the tang of his sweat. All of his late wife's things now his. I can still see him, hunched over that smudged and cracked mirror, pressing her powder into the lines of his face.
This man is staving off grief by dressing in his late wife’s clothes and using her make-up. Here the scent is not seductive but represents bereavement. This isn’t someone trying to look pretty, but someone trying not to lose someone else’s essence.
‘Pearl Daughter’ becomes a prayer from a mother to a daughter,
let her pray to the glimmering eye of the shrine for my safe return, and when she's twelve or thirteen, body waking to the push and pull of octopus lovers and sharks and I'll concede the use of Neoprene. And if she follows her mother, takes on the muscle and clout of the sea, let her body be a twist of flame the ocean can't douse.
A prayer for a son would probably not involve a worry about ‘octopus lovers and sharks’. This one is a wish for a daughter to survive against the odds.
The umbilical cord is the subject of ‘Cord’, which starts
When the nurse lay you on my chest it pulsed between us blue-white vigorous, the best I had to give - stem-cell, lymphocytes, streaming down the line they had to cut off. Nine months of nurture you shed, easy as a snake discards its skin.
Although the snake is a rather predictable image (and not the best the author is capable of) the poem ends strongly,
I hoard it in a matchbox as I would a seashell, the hook of a cocoon, a milk tooth, a curl.
The cord that sustained life for nine months becomes another memento.
Victoria Gatehouse has a light touch and uses accessible language which nonetheless has layers, giving the poems depth. She shows empathy, reaching out beyond the personal narrative. The rite of passage approach gives the collection coherence and an underlying narrative arc. Each poem feels as if it has been placed with consideration for how it relates to its neighbours. The Mechanics of Love casts an analytical – but ultimately approving – eye over humanity.