REVIEW by Jasmine DonahayeNWR Issue 99
by Gillian ClarkeIce
celebrates the settled, the rooted, the rural – Clarke’s frequent subjects. Her poems of sweetness and nostalgia document human and cultural continuity, and the seasons’ progressions and demands. This collection shows what Clarke does superbly, delivering a particular kind of elegant poem, notwithstanding some formal variation. There is a thematic progression in the first thirty pages (which is to say the first thirty poems, as not one of the sixty-five poems reaches further than a single page); the remainder constitutes something of a miscellany, and includes several personal and commissioned poems. These latter by their nature fulfil their remit, but some do not work to good effect beyond it.
Where the collection begins with the regret of ice loss and traditional ways of knowing in ‘Polar’, it ends with hope: ‘Every leaf-scar is a bud / expecting a future’ (‘The Year’s Midnight’). There’s a subtle ambiguity in closing this last poem, and therefore also the collection, with the line ‘Promises. Promises’, but, with a couple of exceptions, the poems don’t engage with difficult matters. Rivers, for example, sensually described in terms of the body – ‘the long brown muscles of the Usk’ (‘The Newport Ship’); ‘the silver bones of the river’ (‘Ice Music’) – are not flooding and full of dirt and danger, because they work as metaphors of continuity and rhythm rather than of threat.
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