CHERRY SMYTH: THE FUTURE OF SOMETHING DELICATE
The Poetry Business
Bank Street Arts
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ISBN 1 902382 76 5
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|CHERRY SMYTH: THE FUTURE OF SOMETHING DELICATE|
Cherry Smyth's tone throughout THE FUTURE OF SOMETHING DELICATE is so consistently even that, at first, the reader thinks that the quality of the poems is also even. This isn't so, however, and a second reading gives the impression of a variety in quality — from poems which are a little flat for a collection of this nature, to poems which would fit well in a "selected" volume.
A poet's tone is one of his or her most basic attributes. A poet cannot speak without having discovered his or her own tone. Sometimes it seems as if a certain relationship between tone and subject matter is the thing the poet is saying. Often, too, the tone seems to define the things that a poet can write about. Smyth's tone is clear-eyed, precise and experienced in the ways of the emotions. And there is also, more subtly, a sense of sustaining satisfaction at having worked her way into being able to flex and explore her voices.
All tones contain restrictions that are inseparable from their strengths, and the intelligence-based poise that enables Smyth to speak does carry with it a reluctance to yield to the emotion which is such an essential element in the transformations of poetry. This is not always the case, however, and Smyth's most successful poems occur where her intelligence, rather than replacing or desiccating the effect, becomes its liberating shape. PAINTED HORSES, the first poem in the collection is, for example, a chilling enactment of the pitilessness which sexual revenge can make us capable of when a relationship is coming to an end. Calmly, a woman delineates what happens when fear shoots through her at the demands of her partner:
But that wasn't as bad as when you said you'd go out and find sex if I didn't give you any more,FAIR AND LOVELY, perhaps the most beautiful poem in the book, makes a wonderful verse out of the memories of a trip to India. It seems as if we've been making poetry out of this stuff forever. But the freshness of the original impulse is still one of the poles of poetry, however; it is still important as its complement — conceptual and contextual innovation. SEEING GLOSTS is a beautifully turned announcement of our fear in the face of what might become a dangerous situation:
I don't rush the dark passageway to Milner Square, though I am pushed to run from the bloke behind — he is young and tall and black. I'm ashamed that I glance back to check his pace, to glimpse the contours of his face, half-hidden by his white hoodie.A HUNDRED THOUSAND WELCOMES is a poem on what is becoming a basic dilemma in modern society: the fear of
Driving from the airport through a checkpoint, fearful you'd forget your name, the way you prayed.THE FUTURE OF SOMETHING DELICATE is a lucid meditation on the changing season —
All winter I watched your single cyclamen unbend its crook, to upflutter in the only light.In WHAT I'D LOVE there is a wonderful emphasis on being "whole". The care with which Smyth seeks clear articulation — and she always makes this, rightly, a priority — enervates the poem's ability to act emotionally or imaginatively on the reader:
I do it with dated faith — search the night sky for a rare conjunction, wait or a clear moon to distinguish the knuckle of rings, the red-green glitter, an intensity closer to the horizon, reaching from the past into my room's future.Smyth does not have what one might call a transforming imagination — a comprehensive idiosyncrasy of view that inflects every detail of her writing. Nor is her work suffused with a compelling imagery — though it is rare when her imagery is not adequate to the conceptions of the poem. There are some memorable lines. She describes a painting by Louis le Brocquy as "a finger-hole poked in wet cement" (HUMAN IMAGE). A child in THE TRACE OF SMALL COLD FLIES tugs as a gash "to make it gape like a grimace." Overall, however, she might be described as using a modestly figurative language — such, perhaps, as is not likely to unbalance the poise of the poem.
At their best, the poems escape a predictability of conception. The poems depend on the quality of their perceptions and the best occur when her precise considerations tap into a belief in a world beyond negotiation and role-play.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|