Oct 3 2022
Poetry review – THE BEAUTIFUL OPEN SKY: Rachael Clyne is impressed by a debut chapbook collection from Hannah Linden
There is alchemy in this book, as Hannah Linden describes her journey to heal childhood wounds and become the loving mother she aspires to be. Family relationships mould our hearts and minds and unearthing their impact on us and our progeny, is a journey that resonates. The poet describes her teenage mother as, ‘a drift of a girl’. “Mindstrap” conveys the hardness demanded by poverty and her mother’s attitude to children, in flat Lancastrian dialect,
Don’t be mard, she’d say. You’d reckon she meant mardy: spoilt or irritable but she meant soft inadequate, a weaklin.
Linden goes on to play on the word mard in the poem:
She ated children blatherin, cringing. Physical pain were a deformity and we were marred by it by default.
For a child, rich in imagination, this must have been tough.
Birds are a recurring motif and a memory of rescuing a wounded blackbird (“Childhood”) symbolises learning to mother herself and keep her creative songbird spirit alive: ‘I was a fragile nest holder longing / for a tree or a gap in the hedge.’
The poet also draws on fairy stories. Hints of Red Riding Hood, witches, breadcrumbs, ovens and gingerbread, permeate two poems, (“The Cottage in the Wood,” and “The Start of the Fire”). She poses questions: ‘Is that really what you wanted to hear? Look to your sadness / and see if it is the size of your abandonment.’
“The Fight” is devastating. It describes how as a teenager, the poet is forced to leave her mother and siblings behind, to live with her grandmother. Her mother ‘s remarriage marks the severance of their relationship. Her father is dead and she searches for remnants of him.
…When she left, I slit open the boxes to search for my overall: my dead dad’s shirt, the hold of his undying smell. My stepfather had thrown away this rag of him –
The pamphlet’s second half addresses the poet’s sense of inadequacy when starting a family of her own and later as a single parent. In “Family”, she mentions, ‘having a working theory/some cribbed notes of my own’. It all feels precarious as she attempts to protect her children. What comes through however is the poet’s courage and tenderness towards her son and daughter. The later poems are triumphant, as despite the challenges, her children grow into themselves. “The Stars Are Cherry Stones That Have Lost Their Colour” relates a magical conversation with her son, aged ten, about space and time.
as if Time were an unwanted child – something he thinks is the saddest thing in the world because he knows what it is to be loved.
In “The Whole Family Climbs Aboard the Wonky Future Machine”, Linden tells herself, ‘not having money is tricky’, but faith and love are more important.
You have to keep faith in the kindness of strangers who are still strangers but who might become makers of a draught of air that is the difference between success and a crash. Don’t think of the mangled bones at the bottom of the mountain. Think of the beautiful open sky.
Linden writes about her relationship with her daughter, who releases pent up pain after drinking (“One Parent Family”). Mother holds her as she throws up while the son brings the glass of water: this is a scene that shows a family united. The bird motif reappears as the daughter attempts to ‘fledge’ but falls prey to ‘predators’ and returns to the nest.
The pandemic takes its toll on the young, preventing them from going off in search of their adult lives. In the confines of home, they must nurture and entertain each other. They must also face their pain and develop into a healthy adult relationship. The daughter takes over the cooking. “The Good Mother’s Guide to Healthy Cooking in the Apocalypse” describes, with humour, the survival skills needed for this time. ‘Casseroles made me what I am today…. Everyone is improvising these days’
Many kinds of apocalypse and a stew to suit everyone. The secret is always in the stock you’ve taken of your time. Never throw away the trimmings, she said. Don’t waste any mess you’ve made of your life.
In “Fear of the Sky” the son reveals his depression and pain. The poet finally hears his fears, his sense of loss of friendships and father. He rejects her hugs, knowing he alone must face his pain and that it is a healing process. The daughter too is preparing to fly, leaving Linden to listen to the creaks and groans of a home that has kept them safe.
Hannah Linden’s pamphlet is full of love, compassion and insight. Her use of language is colloquial yet rich and deep. This is a wonderful debut pamphlet from a poet with many more books inside her. Its first print run sold out within a week!
Rachael Clyne, from Glastonbury, is widely published in journals and anthologies. Her prizewinning collection, Singing at the Bone Tree (Indigo Dreams), concerns our broken connection with nature. Her pamphlet, Girl Golem (4word.org), explores her Jewish migrant heritage and sense of otherness. Her new collection, You’ll Never Be Anyone Else, expands on themes of identity and will be published in 2023 by Seren.