Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review by David Harmer in Orbis

My thanks to David Harmer for this interesting review - so great to be told things that your collection does that you'd never realised!

The Point Of Waking by Cora Greenhill
52pp, £9, Overstep Books, 6 Hallwell House, South Pool,
Nr Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 2RX www.overstepsbooks.com

These poems are told with acute observation, rooted in landscapes and in people. The opening piece, ‘Unhinged’, like so many others, is closely textured, layers of narrative knotted together with densely packed rhyme, assonance and alliteration. It also introduces major themes, running throughout the book: the juxtaposition of natural forces against the human condition, and how the former often outguns the latter. In a house, during a fierce gale:
You must fight to fend off its force /while you clamp the stiff catches closed again,/ wrench and secure the latches
I liked this very much, and other poems continue its investigations. In ‘Borders’, a young Pakistani gardener in Crete is on the run from the authorities as he searches for sanctuary. His insecurity and sadness is contrasted with the permanence of the land he is so carefully tending. The poet displays a forensic accuracy when she lists the plants surrounding him: ‘beds of rose bergamot, cinnamon trees / five varieties of sage’, but he cannot stay; he has no papers.
It isn’t just flowers. In ‘A Local Habitation and a Name’ (doffing her cap towards Norman Nicholson), one voice lists many birds and butterflies that exemplify a natural order of things, while a second voice asks ‘will their names outlive them?’, a pleasing expansion of technique as well as a pertinent question.
Other pieces are set in the colder landscapes of Derbyshire, and again, the metaphor works. In ‘Burbage Edge In Snow’, her frailty is ruthlessly exposed against the powers of the natural world: ‘as I, with nothing to cling on to, felt sick /at the skid I could see coming.’ She is also interested in exploring ideas to do with the ageing process. Sometimes we can win a battle or two; here is ‘Nil By Mouth’: ‘this ballooning / happiness, held on a rope of grief.’ But eventually we can’t. The process is as natural as the plants and animals that populate the collection. In ‘Your Love of Wild Horses’, she says, ‘You’d shrunk so small by then / you’d slipped the halter of your life with ease.’ Some poems take on another tone, such as ‘A Sport of Water’ where the narrator watches a loved one wind surfing off the coast of Crete. Inevitably, it invites a comparison between Penelope and Odysseus as well as displaying a lightness of technical choice:

but how my heart/kites/for you

I also enjoyed ‘Seen In Sheffield’ where a group of boys are doing parkour and their exuberance and cool is captured: ‘This / is what boys are: poems freed in air’.
Possibly some will question linking the natural world with immutable truth, and opposing it with a faltering humanity but that is Cora Greenhill’s message, one expressed with passion and technical skill. In the end she is right; our name may not outlive us. 

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