Temporary Safety: Rose Drew, Fighting Cock Press
We learn, on the back cover of Temporary Safety that Rose Drew’s favourite place is in front of a large audience. That’s obvious from her book: the works in it make themselves clear at a first reading because they are written to be read out; an audience doesn’t have the luxury of referring back that a reader has. She’s exercised by public issues, the author note tells us, specifically equal opportunities for “women, special needs kids and differently-abled people”. (“Differently-abled” giving a clue that she’s originally from the US). We can expect the author, from time to time, to make a stand on issues that concern her.
What is ‘Temporary Safety’? The title poem speaks, in the first person, about a day in which the author voted, and later witnessed her next-door neighbour “perched on a hard little kitchen stool for hours: / unwarranted, unarrested, uncounselled, bullied by questions” as her home is repossessed. The poem ends: “I voted today/ I watched today/ and I stayed away/ praying only for temporary safety and an unnoticed life” .
‘Temporary safety’ is from Benjamin Franklin: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
This sense of a need for safety, in a world of threat, extends to poems about private life. The collection’s longest poem, 'New Year’s Eve, York, England', looks back 15 years to new year in New York, a drunken husband and a “tiny child abed / and I work tomorrow ...” It brings us back to today, demonstrating one of the author’s ways of holding a poem together: repetition. At the beginning, she’s wearing a long black coat whose “wooly wings promise (threaten?) to fling me to the sky / if I only let go”. And the poem is rounded off with the coat “promising to fling me to the sky / if I only let go.”
Taking a stand on public issues can veer towards the preachy. I found this true of 'The God Squad', removing “your spreading lichen views/ and chisels your Saints / from re-named temple walls”. A poem where the metre gets flatter, the tone shriller.
Throughout the collection we meet the author’s daughter Emily. The “tiny child abed” grows up through some of the best work in the book. 'Evolution' celebrates the day Emily shows up in the kitchen, having dressed herself properly for the first time. She and her mother stand “both silenced by pride/ in our accomplishments”. In 'True Love at Last' “my daughter” reports, in demeanour as well as words, on her first encounter with love’s “crazy electricity”.
Many of the poems turn on places and occasions. 'New Awnings' begins
The new widow
in the old house
has new awnings above each window,
hung there carefully by a grieving son
doing what he can to bring cheer to finality.
An opening that serves as an introduction to reflections on neighbourliness in a busy world. Other featured locations: the Butterfly Room in the Milwaukee Museum; a sugar plantation visited by anthropologists from a conference; 'Zoo Dads', which ruefully observes fathers treating a outing with their children as a project.
Being in front of a large audience is the author’s favourite place, her second “in a lab, analysing human skeletons” as a forensic archaeologist. So, from the applause of the living we move to 'The Dust of the Dead'. Returning home…
… sometimes, in the bath, will marvel
at the many many tiny bones that are my hands and feet
at the rotational aspect of my forearm
about how my neck pivots, fairly well,
how Atlas, the top vertebra,
loyally holds up my skull.
A living being working through her mortality at work. We can find another form of safety in making sense of what we do, and the way we find ourselves: Temporary Safety helps to do that. David Andrew