London Grip Poetry Review – Susan Utting



Poetry review – THE COLOUR OF RAIN: Pat Edwards finds her imagination stirred by the poems in Susan Utting’s new collection


The Colour of Rain 
Susan Utting
Two Rivers Press   
ISBN 978-1-915048-15-8     

The collection is the fifth by this author and in it the poems are divided into four sections. The first section is largely about trees and nature. “You have to be there” sets the tone and presents the idea that going for a walk can help you feel released from yourself, become ‘at one with…the shivering poplars’. In the next poem the writer even embodies a willow, noting:

Some call us weeping; but here, we know
nothing of distress, live only for the quench
of rain

In “Loving Trees”, Utting further expresses her affection for trees and notes their ability to find a kind of intimacy with one another, an intimacy she craves:

I’d like to feel that close –
ness, to nestle down without
fear of contagion, of harm

“Fox Under the Blossom Trees” dips into something that pervades the book, the idea of disobedience in the pursuit of freedom. The poet tells us ‘the fox doesn’t know it’s meant to be nocturnal’, as if to endorse the fox’s daytime roaming and to suggest that other species have got a better idea of how to conduct themselves than we humans. In the same poem, the repeated ‘red kites cross and swoop’, further illustrates the point. Even as the poet goes about dead-heading plants and caring for her garden, she communes with the bees and admits she has ‘forgotten/how to tell the place where all the nectar/is’, and hopes to ‘find/the language…tell the bees’.

Section two includes poems about dreams, nature in the city, weather. Some of these are ekphrastic or inspired by the work of other poets. I was particularly taken with “Tiger in the National Gallery”, and the line ‘taxidermy gives me ever-lasting life’. What a wonderful paradox, that the stuffed animal – clearly dead – can find permanence in being preserved as if still alive. There is also a beautiful poem, “Thaw”, about the the process of snow melting. The poet captures something of the subtle changes of pace as ‘small suburban avalanches’ occur and everything is ‘made back-to-normal ordinary, urgent’.

The third section seems to reflect upon parents, childhood and the need to escape. In “Her Room” the writer muses on ‘believing in the possibility of sky’, as if this might be a means of leaving behind a former life and finding a new freedom. “Afaz/Cages” follows a similar idea:

Cage walls – remember and believe –
can be unwoven, can be breached

as if to reinforce the notion that nothing should compel someone to stay confined, if they can only find it within themself to accept the possibility of escape. Again in “Sight Lines” we find the same thought, namely that it’s always possible to move ‘towards the thrill of what’s beyond’. In “Newhaven”, the poet describes trains, cranes, liners, all going about their business at the hectic port, but her focus shifts towards to the lighthouse that ‘looks out to sea, resists the tide’. Here again is that theme of escape, of resistance, the lighthouse pursuing ‘its night-shift circle dance’ as if it were plotting something.

The final section feels like a kind of resolution. I was intrigued by the poem title “Ingathering”, possibly a reference to Jews gathering for their three big feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. However, in this poem ‘her head’s a tabernacle full of language/with its own throb and shimmer’ makes us think of how words are so important to any writer, are their refuge, their essential yet amazing tools. Some poems in this section evoke school days with references to dark fears, to strict rituals, ‘wire-legged, terrible boys’, bodies ‘scrubbed raw-clean’ by Matron and detention. However, despite being scarred by some of these experiences, there is a sense of hope and recovery, ‘of a pressed satin sleeve, that marked/her survivor’.

I very much enjoyed reading these poems, written by someone with such a vivid inner world, where she creates realms that become safe havens, places to be ‘awake behind closed lids’. I got a sense of maybe a childhood in the confines of boarding school, full of rules and religion, and the poet relishing getting out into nature or into a world of dreams and imagination.

The last poem in section one, “Stones”, seems to evoke aspects of the sad story of Virginia Woolf

She carries stones in her pockets to keep
herself weighed down, her feet
from tiptoeing 

but these lines could also be summing up the need to be both grounded and yet free to stretch ourselves to the possibilities of what else is out there if we allow ourselves to explore. The poem goes on to hint at the harm our parents and other can cause, deliberately or otherwise, and then contemplates the act of forgiveness. Utting plays with tensions like these throughout the collection in a most satisfying way. She takes us into the natural world and shows us its healing power. She invites us to dream beyond the confines of our comfort zone. She calls us to gentle rebellion.