In terms of the three collections reviewed here, it’s the oddone-out, being so vibrantly American, yet it connects with both Woolf’s and Lumsden’s work in its refusal to look away from the terrible.
Not All Honey offers a different reading experience in one respect: it’s full of humour — “the heart’s exubera” — (‘The Last Hour of her Teens’) as in
I reached 48 and achieved my first box file …
the cryptic needs its sorting, its box file.
(‘The Tao of Amy Key’)
‘The Bells of Hope’ is a separate 51-poem piece which was published in 2012 by Penned In The Margins. Here among the other sections their strangeness and compressive darknesses are able to breathe and assert a slant, opaque “reflection” of the whole. Lumsden describes them as a “series” rather than a “sequence” of poems that “connected…and it seemed they were all related to my situation of living alone after so many years of cohabitation” (Interview on Scottish Poetry Library website). This is the first of them:
Lumsden’s also fascinated by quizzes and his is a mind delighting in words, puzzles, games, connections and dislocations. ‘Zany’ implies less control and subtlety than these poems provide but there is huge pleasure simply in words and the structures that they can make when mixed up together. The Glossary provides insights into this “unusual language”, and includes some Scots words, including one of my favourites : “scunnerations”, annoyances. In ‘Calumnet’ (which is, we are told, a First American peace pipe) a clue speaks of the collection’s many-chambered heart:
two radios, tuned to separate channels, or perhaps one radio and one recording of the same radio, or another radio, say, or two recordings of a radio.
Endlessly responding to the overwhelming stimulus of the world, its signs and languages, its decentredness and selfreflexiveness, Lumsden listens for that moment “in a place that pleasure has missed,/but where there is release, load then overload”. Sometimes the fireworks form a smokescreen.
These three collections show how inventive and resilient the human spirit can be in the face of “terrific melancholy” and how poetry can speak to us, perhaps not to comfort but to bear witness.
Betwixt of January, the year’s scantest trawl. The sharking ghost of Anne
Boleyn would raise a shrug. But my ghost would void your bowels.
My ghost would hug you hard — then hug you far too hard.
It’s in the form of a ‘kernel’ poem, created by Lumsden as “a swirl of truth and metaphor in one dimeter line and three equal, much longer lines” (SPL) which is repeated throughout the 51 poems. Being alone, how it feels, what it means, runs through the entire collection, however. Each of these three poets stands quite alone in the face of what is happening to them, in the white-out of grief, in the loneliness at the heart of a family or the loss of a relationship.
78 close reading