Faber New Poets 13
Available from The Book Shop, South Street, £5
BR Rating *****
By John Pownall
Elaine Beckett is a Faber New Poet. She lives here in the Bridport area, and has written for the Review on several occasions. She is one of 16 selected by Faber, the publishing house that is the apotheosis of poetry publishing.
Elaine arrives with a collection of 15 poems, none of them overlong, and all of them seemingly accessible and lucent. This is the trick of her work, to have the surface of simplicity, but the depth of complexity.
The opening poem, for example, Melting, appears to work on a simple narrative level. A conversation is struck up between strangers; a fishmonger and his customer –the poet herself perhaps. It’s the melting of polar ice and social barriers which works the core meanings in the poem; everything is going to water, it seems, including the atmosphere outside the shop:
..he sloshed about with his bucket/and I enjoyed the rain/that was coming down like a veil/between us, and the passers by
So ends the piece. The collision of sibilants acting as a sonic echo to the poem’s meanings; everything is liquid – even the consonants.
The collection takes in a broad range of ostensible subjects; ecological issues sit side by side with stories of love and loss, and indeed it is the latter which often stand out. A poem such as The Woman Who Cries does what any great psychological poem should: it encapsulates a moment, or series of moments, that resonates in a life – it distils, even more successfully than a good short story does, the gist of an epiphany. Here, the poet (perhaps) receives a postcard of a Picasso painting, and a message from (one assumes) her lover. The message instructs her not to be the woman in the painting:
don’t be La femme Qui Pleure –
it says. First she thinks of the poor woman in the painting, but then turns to think of him, the lover who sent the postcard:
a man who could match me to a painting/that summarised the trouble we were in.
That final couplet is utterly perfect, and astoundingly revelatory. This is tight, polished, wonderfully economical language that signifies a depth and acuteness of feeling, subtly understated because of the tightness of the verse.
Possibly the best poem of the collection, Sometime This Month, is saved until the end. It is a lovely lyric about spring that updates Wordsworth and Shelley with its talk of texting boys and sunbathing girls. It works with repetition and wonderfully observed detail, and is worth quoting at length for the effect of its music:
By the hedge at the end of the lane/where the gate has swung open,a may tree will bloom; /
Five petals to each milk flower, pink- /tipped with stamens; a thousand buds/ by the hedge at the end of the lane.
The poem pivots on these alternating tautologies, the may tree blooming, the hedge at the end of the lane, focussing our eye upon and tuning our ear to the patterns and rhythms of the year as they pass. But this is not picture postcard nature:
… boys walking home/will be struck by the stink of it down/by the hedge.
What is it here that stinks? The blossom, nature, or is there something else going on – the hint of sex perhaps as they check their text messages in the following stanza? Spring is about fecundity, not just prettiness – you sense that somewhere in the undergrowth, off the page, other stamens and buds will be ripening.
Beckett’s poetry is strong and effective; not a word is wasted. Faber has, as you would expect, selected extremely well.
- Elaine Beckett’s collection can also be bought online from the Faber shop: Click here.