Thursday, 15 January 2009
Alice is a beautifully produced chapbook of 20 poems by Jane Weir, published by independent publisher Templar Poetry.
The beautiful opening poem is set in a coffee shop in Derby draws on the opening scene in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. This is apt as many of the poems in this chapbook are located in another century, and focus on both ordinary women – selling second hand clothes at market, women burning their ‘jam rags’, women who knit, cook and raise children – as well as more famous women we might recognise such as poets Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Mew.
These poems are tender and down to earth and political with a small p. We meet Alice Wheeldon, a Derby suffragette who harboured conscientious objectors during World War II. We explore the purple, green and white scarf of the suffragettes in Scarf 1908, examine the sexual politics of the poem ‘Goblin Market’ in Delight.
The strength in these poems for me is the local feel to these poems - and I don’t mean provincial or limited in scope or subject matter - I mean local references and experiences written in this beautiful northern lilt with the odd colloquialism and gritty language. I can hear the voices; see the locations the poems are set in.
I particularly enjoyed Burning Rags on Pear Street, A Pan of Potato Hash, Scarf 1908 and Helping you put your Coat on. I think mainly because they are looking back, examining the lives of women that came before us, our heritage. The last of these poems, I thought was a beautiful tender poem, a daughter (or granddaughter) helps an older woman put her coat on.
My one slight criticism about these poems is that at times I felt there was an over-reliance on simile. Some of these similes were beautiful and very original: ‘you hold my gaze like a handful of Napoleons’; ‘her equine eyes blacken/smoulder like thatch’; and ‘You half rise, lodge/your trembling knees/like giant sycamore seeds/into the grain of the table’. But others were not so good: ‘scatter like iron filings,’ ‘racing through their blood like viruses’ and overall I found other more subtle imagery more powerful
‘Ahead, three or four gulls, black backed
snip at the swollen lips of the river’
‘I can see her hands
licked with damson burns’
‘as gentle autumn
purrs the scalps off trees’
These are some of the images in these poems that made me almost gasp at how beautiful language can be in the right poet’s hands, almost envious that I hadn’t written these lines.