Poetry review – STONE FRUIT: Louise Warren admits to being perplexed by Rebecca Perry’s poems – but also wants to revisit them.
Towards the end of this complex, sometimes difficult but mesmerising second collection by Rebecca Perry, we discover the image behind the title Stone Fruit. In her cool detached voice Perry recalls a story she read as a child, in which a beast and a young girl are traveling through the wilderness. The beast leaves her in order to fight a duel with an enemy which will make the place safe for them. All she has to do is stay still until he returns, not to move an inch. She waits. After a time, the sky flashes red, and she knows that this is a sign the beast is victorious. Her foot twitches, barely at all, and in that moment, everything – the girl, the beast, the land, even the plants and flowers and the fruit hanging from the trees – all turn to stone. It seems the smallest error can paralyse you.
She has failed in so inconceivably small a way. She has failed utterly.
The book is in three parts and these lines appear in the final, and most successful sequence. It concerns Perry’s experience of being a trampoline artist ,where everything – her body, her training schedule, costumes, her anxieties and the pain she feels – has to be controlled.
Even her hair.
My hair was French plaited before each competition. Neat, tight, no stays, set to solidity with hairspray. The pull at the temples was a grounding in the body, a fixing.
Disaster isn’t registered. A performance must be delivered perfectly she tells us;
I landed in the vast safe space between total failure and absolute perfection. I am expert at dropping the reins at the last minute.
Is this how life is? Is she telling us that sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail; we fall ill, we recover, we die, we fall in love, we attempt the perfect balance but sometimes we fail.
Perry has a precise, detached voice. She observes events, often in forensic detail, as if watching herself from a distance. When a passer-by tells her that a dragonfly has landed on her ankle
We both observed the creature – which was really incredibly beautiful – for a few seconds, and he returned to the lunch he was eating from a Tupperware with a fork.
Some of the text is shaped like a prose poem, the sentences separated out, the white space echoing this feeling of detachment, of distance and coolness. The sentences are clipped off with full stops. Reading it I had the impression I was following a series of fragmented moments, memories and thoughts as they occurred.
My husband, the botanist, he dreams green. If you dropped an apple Into the ocean, imagine, it could wash up on an island with nocturnal trees.
Do we care enough about these thoughts to try and piece them together as a whole? Or is it enough to admire their construction, the artful wording? Yet ultimately are we left unmoved and puzzled by it?
The first sequence concerns itself with beaches. There are 14 poems. One begins with an image of a miniature painting.
You frown in your portrait, appearing dead even at the time, in a weak oval of enamel sky.
Here there are recurring images of the sea, of waves, of the sand timer as a body. Sand crabs expose their vulnerability, a lover appears, exposing a rawness of feeling. So, sex then? love? desire?
the water sealed up the hole in my chest the man waded in he wore my heart around his neck on a strip of leather
Some poems in this section barely seem to touch the sides, they are so slight.
I found there was more substance in the second part. It also opens with a painting – this time The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. So, is death the subject then?
Certainly, Perry tells us about the death of her partner’s grandmother. In one long prose poem written in that cool , detached and detailed voice she begins;
My partner’s grandmother slept for three days in the run up to her death, which occurred 44 minutes ago. She didn’t drink for seven days before that. She didn’t eat for three days before that. Her eyes had been closed, most of the time, for around a month.
Through this poem Perry moves from that death, through to other deaths, and takes us back to the beach, the lover walking into the sea, and the sand crabs . She also writes about poetry and the making of a poem.
I have an absurd sense that love poms without pain in them are shameless, and that anecdotal honesty is as much a figment of the imagination as hallucinating rain through a dusty window.
I wondered if that was what I was looking at, this landscape that Perry has created though her fragmented anecdotal writing , a kind of hallucination of the real.
Stone Fruit is a perplexing, sometimes opaque, clever book. I wanted to go back and read the poems one more time, to look once again, through that dusty window.