Poetry review – WRECK OF THE JEANNE GOUGY: Louise Warren enjoys the interplay of poems and pictures in Colin Pink’s new collection
Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy Colin Pink (with illustrations by Daniel Goodwin) Paekakariki Press ISBN 9781908133434 £12.50
It is a pleasure to pick up a book published by Paekakariki Press. They are always a thing of beauty with wonderful attention to detail, from the handsome flap jacket to the thick cream paper. Paekakariki lovingly produce books from their workshop in East London, using their own letter press and often incorporating line drawings alongside the poems. This is a lovely addition to their catalogue.
The poet Colin Pink has taken the tale of the wreck of the French trawler Jeanne Goughy and set it as the main poem in this collection. In November 1962 the boat capsized in bad weather at Gamper Bay – between Sennen Cove and Lands End. Out of a crew of 18 trawlermen, only six were saved.
Poets are often attracted to shipwrecks and there is something of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in this story. The repeated refrain of ‘Oh God, not again! ‘deepens the mounting feeling of doom, of a tragedy written on the waves. Pink writes with a furious intensity, evoking the sound and feel of the storm, so that we are swept up in its fearful rhythm.
The clog of it; Water a stone in the throat; The gasp of it – outbursting Oh God not again! The sweep and sway of it; the world tilting Power of it, turning up to drown, down to up. The childish jostle of it, barging in Again and again, extinguishing air and light.
The shape of the poem mirrors the storm, zigzagging across the page, cropped at the end of the sentences with a capital letter at the beginning of a line like a new wave rising and breaking. I felt almost seasick reading it!
The rollers rolled her Over as if tripping up an enfant
Pink captures the slap of the waves as they dash against the boat.
The sailors are thrown From side to side, collide Battered by the fist of the storm Oh God not again!
I am particularly drawn to books where poetry and images combine, where both carry equal weight. Pink obviously has a visual eye, which is why this book is a collaboration with the artist Daniel Goodwin. Goodwin’s stark energetic woodcuts add another dimension to the work. The only full page illustration takes inspiration from the title poem: against a black background, a storm of white scratches conjure up the ship lying on its side, obliterated before our eyes, while in the foreground a few dark figures stand with their backs to us, watching in numb unmoving silence.
The remaining illustrations are a series of details accompanying the other smaller poems in the collection and etched onto the bottom of the page. I was reminded of the work of Kathe Kollwitz and sure enough ,there is a poem entitled ‘Lamentation of Kathe Kollwitz’
The grief is for you and the angels sigh for those dark times. The grief is frozen bronze clamped over our mouths and eyes.
Pink also references Sylvia Plath, his spare, bare phrasing matching Goodwin’s woodcut very well:
She is a sylph punctuation mark on the horizon; perched on top a dry stone wall, one foot dangling.
There are perfect winter poems as with ’Breakfast with Birds 1934’:
And everything not of this moment evaporates; you watch and wait; the birds watch and wait; and the world holds its breath as long as it takes. The thrum of the real, the hardness of the table,
This is inspired by the German painter Gabriele Múnter. German history and the anti-Nazi resistance movement is a recurring theme in this book as in ‘The White Rose’:
To think when thought is forbidden. To love when taught to hate. To resist the surge of the crowd. To manoeuvre in a world of control. To speak when silence is enforced.
The collection offers tender moments too as in the lovely poem ‘Dancers’ which speaks in delicate words, beautifully framed and yet leaving us with the feeling that the storm is never far away.
Hold out your hand and place it in mine Together we’ll fill our cups of emptiness Spill out our dreams so that they might align.
All in all Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy is an assured collection from both poet and artist.