“Anthem of Small Details Singing”
Rob A. Mackenzie
Playing House Katherine Stansfield (Seren, £9.99)
A Woman Without a Country Eavan Boland (Carcanet, £9.95)
The Spanish-Italian Border Roísín Tierney (Arc, £8.99)
Thematic unity has become almost an expectation when new poetry collections are published these days. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s a convenient way for publishers to market their poetry list by saying what books are about, as if they were novels. I sympathise, given how hard it is to sell poetry, but I see no reason why poetry books can’t simply be collections of individual poems bound by intelligent ordering and unique authorial sensibility. Katherine Stansfield’s first collection is in this category — there are recurrent themes, but none dominate.
The collection begins with ‘O bees of Rhode Island’, a poem I remember well from when I’d read fifteen submissions to Magma 53 one frustrating evening and had found nothing that grabbed me. I then clicked on an email from Katherine Stansfield, an author new to me at the time, and this was the opening poem. It had everything: music, rhythm, energy, humour, originality of language, and a compelling take on the world. Here are the first seven lines:
You’re bolshie in morning hover, smug humming zip tours of roses, those puckered-up girls, while the pool’s unblinking eye gives back your stateliness, your striped I’m-great-liness. Hop a jig along, stop — take the measure of after-margarita me, hare-legged, still drunk in the gazebo.
Many poems about bees have been written in the last few years, but none match this one’s infectious verve. Is the rest of the collection as good? It often is. There are poems about the missing or disappeared, about journeys and the desire to escape, about beginnings and endings close reading