REVIEW by Georgia Fearn

NWR Issue r35

In Passing

by Anna Lewis

Energy cannot be made or lost – / only transformed – then every word she spoke / must remain somewhere in motion, / while dispersed beyond retrieval.
‘At the Waggon and Horses’

Anna Lewis’ new poetry collection, In Passing, defies expectations. A follow-up from her award-winning debut collection, Other Harbours, Lewis introduces fresh and refined perspectives on history, and asks us to question everything we know about poetry in this moving and passionate collection.

The first thing that gripped me was Lewis’ interesting take on the natural world, the stunning imagery showing us a connection between our world and that of our ancestors. Though events clearly differ in the various historic perspectives, as in ‘The Box Pilgrimage’, in which Lewis explores religiosity in the time of the Black Death, Lewis continually draws parallels between our modern lives and the past through nature. This recurring theme suggests to me that despite the fast-paced changes in the world and society, nature will always be powerful and should be celebrated.

In ‘Early Apples’, Lewis explores the power of nature and our relationship with the natural world through the telling of a birth. The poet pities that newborn babies have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing nature, ‘He hasn’t yet / been outside, has no notion of trees / with their feet in the earth, / with their fruit that not only withstands / the long autumn dusk, but gains colour / and glows as winter approaches,’ the beautiful personification of the natural world highlighting Lewis’ poetic talent. However, in the final stanza, Lewis illuminates the idea that there is an unbreakable union between nature and humanity, using striking metaphor to express this relationship, ‘The baby knows, in his own way, / a little of this; fruit and trunk / of his own tree at once, he grows.’ Reminiscent of Romantic poets Wordsworth and Shelley, Lewis expresses the same key ideas of the Romantic era whilst also employing remarkable poetic style that is original and fresh.


Not only does Lewis connect us with our ancestors through the natural landscape, but she also touches on the relevance of the past to contemporary issues. ‘The Settlers’ paints a fantastic portrait of how early settlers have shaped our modern society, the opening lines ‘Against the windows of the Polski sklep / Turkish coffee-house, Jamaican café-bar’ depicting a multicultural and ethnically diverse modern life that we are so familiar with. Lewis takes us on the journey with the settlers, ‘those who prayed to leave, / who planned and saved for years; / all those who sailed, who soared, / and landed,’ emphasizing their hardships and drawing an undeniable parallel with the topical issue of immigration. This poem is so pertinent and adopts a level of seriousness that I find absent in the playful poetry before it, perhaps then serving as a political voice in this collection. It is telling stories of people and places of the past that I believe is so compelling, and other standouts are ‘Windows in Belleville’ and ‘The Engagement Party (I) & (II)’ that help us to understand them more deeply.

My favourite poem of this collection is unquestionably ‘The Three’. Based on the medieval tale ‘The three living and the three dead’, Lewis re-tells the story of three corpses who warn the living of their inevitable death and the didactic lesson they learn from this. The canvas of the corpses is subtle, ‘Through thickets of whitewash and plaster: / a long flash of thigh bone, / a snatch of teeth, of ribs,’ yet is eerily cautionary in its ambiguity. The underlying ideas of death and its certainty become clear in the corpses’ warning, ‘As you were… So you will be’. It is a universal truth, and yet the unnerving though fantastic imagery of this poem and its story does make you think about how you are living your life, the entire point of the tale. Again, Lewis employs plots and ideas that are not original, but this is not in any way a criticism! It is the interweaving of past texts and events with the present that makes this collection so readable and interesting.

You do not have to be an archaeologist nor historian to appreciate this collection. Lewis teaches you things you never knew and does not punish you for not knowing them. Instead, she cleverly uses careful metaphors and poetic subtlety to make you enjoy learning about the past. In Passing compelled me to try to understand past events and how they impact our present and our future. Lewis’ exploration of time and how it all intertwines and influences our lives is truly something to be respected and valued. It is not only insightful, but it is inspirational in how it ultimately makes us feel as though we have gained something immense.

Georgia Fearn is a nineteen-year-old aspiring journalist from south Wales. Having secured a place in Cambridge University to read English this October, Georgia is passionate about reading and writing. One of her literary reviews gained first prize in the Dylan Thomas Book Review Awards in 2018. Georgia is also an avid writer, particularly of short stories, and was thrilled when her work was published in Young Writers’ Anthology.




       


previous review: Crushed
next review: No Far Shore: Charting Unknown Waters



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