Daughter, Jessie Lendennie, Salmon, £7.50 (hardback); £3.50 (paperback).
There's a passage in John Berger's book G which Glenda Cimino uses as an epigraph to her collection Cicada:
- "your voice" he interrupted, "is also like a cicada ... Do you know the legend about cicadas? They say they are the souls ~f poets who cannot keep quiet because when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to."
Whether or not Glenda Cimino writes the poems she wants to is only for her to say but much of her work has qualities which makes this reviewer feel that she probably does. Coming in many forms and with many themes, her poems combine to form a collection that brims with small, startling effects:
Every month I disappoint
my childless womb. This morning its cold red blossom
on the white sheet
New Year's gift, blood poinsettia.
That poem about menstrual blood contains a knowledge of language as a double-edged instrument. The poem is called A Blessing. Part of it explores the closeness of the word blessing to the French word blessllre, meaning wound, and so the poem moves between benediction and hurt.
That contrast surfaces throughout a book w here many poems are poised on the side of delight and pleasure, as in a view of New York apartments at dawn, or sadness and regret, as in the hurt ofa broken relationship. The best of them work with a great frcshness as if Cimino has hosed down old images to reveal them as ncw, live things. The tone is sometimes traditional (especially
in some early work written in the sixties) while more often it successfully contains that American, conversational directness which William Carlos Williams fostered.
Some of the poems verge on the twee and sentimental (with people shown as daisies, for example) and sometimes a rather obvious social message is inserted (In this century/ some die of starvation! while others take tablets for overeating). Despite this, the book's strengths carry it over such obstacles and it stays in the mind as something fresh, exciting, and altogether welcome.
Jessie Lendennie's Daughter is a different kind of book.
Written as prose paragraphs set in white space like clearances in snow, the eye moves from page to page the way it might from frame to frame of an intense slow-moving movie telling of a daughter, Emma, whose mother has died from cancer, and of the relationship between the two.
Scenes from their life together are shown as Emma belies the comments of those who say "she's grown out of it". "They were wrong, wrong" we are told. And so Emma recalls incidents, objects, people and scenes from a past that is painful to enter. Some passages, printed in italics are dream-like. Others are concrete and immediate as the blue ballet slipper for which Emma searches in garbage. Each paragraph gets a page. This is an example:
Bath water spilled on the kitchen floor. Emma's mother pushed her sleeves up further and rubbed the last child thoroughly. The round tin tub creaked with struggling, the laughing.
Some pages have only a few words, as with this:
Emma cried alone in a dirty room.
The pieces, most of them surrounded by a fair amount of white space like the silence between utterances, mount up to present a book that is ambitious in aim but unsatisfactory in realisation.
The reason is this: it is hard to accept the paragraphs as other than fragments of average prose. They seem passages from a cutup story. On the blurb, E~van Boland is quoted as saying of the book: "It~ use of language is eloquent and concentrated". Yet a descriptive paragraph from one of Elizabeth Bowen's better short stories is closer to poetry, to concentrated language, than anything here. And at the back of my mind as I read through the book, the memory of another book surfaced. That book too has small paragraphs in plenty of space yet, as an example of this sort
of book, Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns can most certainly be seen as poetry with its language and themes that are layered and rich.
In the end, I felt Daughter was neither and couldn't decide whether it was a book of poems with a story trying desperately to get out or a book with just one story and a lot of poems trying desperately to get in.