Helen Farish: Intimates
So, over the summer I paid a visit to Grasmere — home of Wordsworth and gingerbread — and there are two things that I absolutely always do whenever I’m there. One: eat a large slice of the lemon and courgette cake from the Rowan Tree Cafe on Church Bridge (it’s bright green and it’s amazing), and two: visit Sam Read’s book shop and spend heaps of money I don’t really have on poetry books.
Helen Farish’s Intimates was one of two poetry books I bought on this latest visit. I know I’ve already waxed lyrical about Sam Read’s book shop, but it is a truly magical place — absolutely tiny, but it boasts a poetry section to rival that of any major book chain. I’d never come across Helen Farish before but after just a quick flick through the first few poems I knew I had to buy and read her first collection. The only poem of hers I’d read before was Newly Born Twins, which I think appeared here — it’s an absolutely brilliant poem from an absolutely brilliant selection. Farish’s work is highly accessible but very obviously female; the poems are by turns cheeky, sensual, deeply moving and heartbreakingly sad. Her poems about the final days and eventual death of her obviously beloved father were particularly excellent — difficult to read, but in the best kind of way. But I particularly loved the final poem, Coffin Path Poem, because it reminded me a lot of myself. Indeed, so many of the poems in Intimates made me think “yes, that’s exactly what it’s like”. In short, I’m telling you: this book is truly great. It should be the very next poetry collection you buy.
Jacob Polley: Little Gods
Helen Farish is a Cumbrian poet, and so is the second poet whose collection I bought at Sam Read’s on my trip to Grasmere. Jacob Polley was born in Cumbria in 1975 and seems to have won just about every poetry award there is to win… and rightly so. Little Gods is his second collection and I’ve just finished working my way through it — it’s one of those poetry collections that’s so good you want to savour it over time. Before I’d got a third of the way through, I’d already gone out and bought Little Gods‘ predecessor, The Brink, and that’s next on my reading list… he’s that good. One of the (many) things I love about Polley’s work is his slightly obsessive interest in certain images and themes — this collection is chock-full of rain, night and owls, but every time they appear and re-appear they do so in a brand new, startling, original way. So many of the poems here are also amazing for their economy — for doing a great deal in a very small number of words. For example, check out the darkly funny and delightfully macabre “At Home”, which — in its entirety — looks like this:
Old Death, in slippers and a crocheted shawl, peels
spuds at the sink or ties beans to beanpoles.
The black cloak hangs by its hood in the hall.
The famished scythe whines through the tool-shed wall.
Given that I don’t think I could ever be satisfied with a poem only four lines long, this is the kind of thing I really aspire to. Reading Polley makes me want to write, and keep writing, until I become a better poet. Which has to be a good thing, no?
What are you reading this week?