Poetry review – SORRY ABOUT THE MESS: Peter Daniels reviews a poignant and personal collection by Heather Trickey
The shortest poem in this book has the longest title – ‘Carefully Considered List of Reasons to Support My Application for Membership of The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) after More Than Twenty-Five Years of Attending Quaker Meetings’ – the whole poem itself being the words ‘still here’, surrounded by the space of the rest of the page. As a Quaker myself, I have known a good few people who attended for years without formally joining our odd Society. All have their individual reasons, but being ‘still here’ is significant for Heather Trickey because of a cancer diagnosis with limited prospects of continuing to be here. Many of these poems are about that, and others have it as an inevitable background. The book is somewhere between a pamphlet and a full-length book, having a slim spine but only 33 pages of poems, which will be for the same reason. This makes for a poignant unfinished feeling to the book: there is even a note to say ‘One of the unresolved messes encompassed here is the lack of a title poem. Sorry.’
However, the book is by no means apologetic – or at least only in a way that seems out of a habit which is no longer needed. In ‘Metamorphosis’ the poet has acquired power from the situation – ‘I / am now a God of the Underworld’ who can be angry yet arbitrarily kind towards the woman delivering the diagnosis, saying ‘I’m sorry / this can’t be the easiest part of your job’, and only afterwards letting rip:
And then. Waiting for our taxi – pacing in the insufficient rain – I shouted Fuck! into the faces of all the living women coming in.
The ‘insufficient rain’ is a typically unexpected and subtle moment. There is a desire for fullness, over-sufficiency, ‘because life is better lived face-on, full-throttle, high wire’ (‘Geography’); a desire for a Jesus who rages in the Garden of Gethsemane, not the one in John’s gospel who accepts his fate – ‘I’d make him spit the words Thy Will Be Done.’ (‘Gethsemane’). All the same, the poet is concerned about how people will respond:
You’re skirting my lost future tense, my dread of being inappropriate, embittered, broken.
This poem, ‘Clatter’, is a kind of fallen-apart villanelle which embodies the situation with the gaps in its form, and the need to face what is broken:
No, love, we must be real – not leave unsaid terror, or the power of our together.
The poem ‘For Grace Received by Open Mic’ asks the obvious ‘Is this therapy or is it Art?’ and there’s no reason why it should not be both, and good therapy for readers as well as the poet.
The ‘mess’ of the title is evident in ‘Lines Composed While Looking for the Sellotape’, building a picture of ‘superfluous wreckage’ in couplets, sometimes loosened but still under control even though
Old solder won’t hold us, I’m all out of string – if control is our goal, there’s no way we can win.
Which is pessimistic, but the poem contradicts its own conclusion, as do other poems in the book, by simply being there as statements demonstrating that the author does have some control. She is able to say: this is who Heather Trickey is. And I’m glad of the chance to meet her here.