Poetry review – IS, THINKS PEARL: Kate Noakes enjoys Julia Bird’s fanciful collection of poetic adventures featuring an imaginary and imaginative heroine
Seventeen new and delightful poems from Julia Bird make up this recently published pamphlet from The Emma Press. Known for its high quality of words and artwork, this little jewel does not disappoint. Although I can’t see who is to be congratulated for the images, I suspect it might be Sophie Herxheimer. No doubt someone will tell me.
Bird likes writing with constraints, so here I imagine the challenge was to write a series of poems about a woman called Pearl without stanza breaks. Pearl is there in every title too.
What I enjoy about Bird’s work is her wryness and ability to see the potential for the strange in the ordinary. Take ‘Red Pearl’ for example. Here ‘Pearl has never quite been on a safari,’ yet she notes a pigeon that toddles onto her usual bus, the terrier on board, and in a cage on a girl’s lap, ‘the twitch and scrabble/ of a hamster with a heart like a red fat flea.’ These are three of the urban big five, the other two being the ‘free-range chicken’ and ‘outdoor-reared ham’ in Pearl’s shopping bag.
Bird mixes her clever wit with more serious contemplations, as in ‘Helium Pearl’ where, beyond musings about a street balloon seller, Pearl thinks ‘this,/ is what it might be like to mourn – to tie each elevating death with a ribbon to your wrist/ and feel its unexpected weight every time a door/ revolves…’
So roll up for the unusual cast of characters from after-hours magicians prestidigitating to the unspeaking couple in the all-day seafood restaurant. And enjoy Pearl, as I did, hugely, as she variously floats in a lido in a throne raised from her own breath (‘Liquid Pearl’), luxuriates in a bubble bath (‘Foaming Pearl’), has a haircut, a ‘Mermaid Balayage’ (‘Buzz Pearl’), fantasises about opening a ‘Museum of Light’ including a ‘Gallery of Bioluminescence’ (‘Burnt Pearl’), alters and rearranges a figure in a model village (‘Brownstone Pearl’), or simply boils an egg (‘Tactical Pearl’).