A Child's Last Picture Book of the Zoo: Louise Warren, Cinnamon
It came with the house.
A lungful of earth coughed up
with all the disturbance, the laying of foundations,
the sinking of drains,
and so it was pushed to one side and left.
The leaves taste different up here, sour
I do not come when my mother calls me.
This is an extract from the opening poem of Louise Warren’s collection and it’s tempting to say that this is the essence of her work, poignant but not whimsical; there’s darkness, death, but light and life too, memories strongly felt, sentimentality pushed away. You see a sensitive, sometimes pained child, whose insightful, surreal imagination helps her cope with her world. Although many of her poems do recreate her childhood experiences, images, feelings and hopes, they’re about all our childhoods. Small worlds become larger, more significant, as she peers closely at objects, as in ‘The Puppeteer’:
They are dead, hung on sticks.
They are wrapped in small stiff bundles,
or between sheets of paper in drawers.
A whole town is here,
a kingdom, a moon drying on a door.
And close-up worlds become zoomorphic, as in ‘Lady Orchid’:
Small tigers wait behind their mouths.
A tongue is a stripy tail,
Others gargle with bees.
There is also her penchant for making the domestic huge and cosmic, as in ‘Making Marmalade’:
Spitting and seething,
A curious volcanic intensity.
She is an astronaut in her own kitchen
stepping into darkness
away from us
the world a distant glow behind a sealed door.
She likes, as do many poets, to anthropomorphise,
The house is skin and bone.
It runs down the hill to meet me.
It tucks me in, I sleep with under my pillow.
and from ‘Daffodils in the Green’:
tongues lashed into place,
shake you out and you will blaze,
dazzling, unfettered, shining, wanton.
She empathises not only with houses and flowers, with things living, but inanimate - a sort of supra-anthropomorphising - like the metaphor of “becoming” a broken cup in ‘Playing Mother’:
I watch the crack open like a wound,
running up my spine, onto my face.
A pattern of roses appear
smacked onto my skin.
And one sometimes feels that she wishes to be with her flowers and plants in the earth:
This October soil
is rooted with dead cabling
and the rusted wires of geranium stems
But still she digs, leaves her blackened nails,
on her knees, groping
the dank, the dark, the mulch…
… things of creep, of nub,
She writes of the earth and the dark, tells us about plants, bulbs, bees and sofas, of creatures as spoons, of channel forts, pylons – “their gaunt ribs, you are a child again / Listen. You can hear them sing” (Pylon) - and readily, as do many female poets, of the body, of organs, flesh, skin. She loves using the latter - flowers have skin, the air has skin. In ‘Hearts Tongue’:
Your hand in mine
soft and pale from the office.
Dark hairs on your arms,
already I want to lick you,
each one a fragile lung
collapsed in on that last breath of scent,
the tight throat of a clutch bag.
(Half Shut Wardrobe).
But the references are rarely overtly sexual; they are often part of her liaison with a rather dark and quietly disturbing spirituality, as in the seance in ‘Table Work’:
she buried her husband but he is seeding in the barley sugar legs,
the ghost of him, a faint platina where he placed his elbows,
She often puts adjectives together in comma-less pairs, “shivering glittering,” “dark wet”, “still grey2. They’re like a dark quicksilver in between the nouns, though rarely bleeding them. Her poems are full of atmosphere. She describes a sofa at the bottom of an embankment
Silently the sofa mulches into the air,
cushions swell, plumped and pearled,
slumping dark heaps,
There is also a nihilistic streak in evidence.
Even when I ran away, life fetched me back,
like a stick,
so he threw me to the dogs
still I feel nothing.
And running through many of them is a strong, but playful surrealism, as in ‘Real Boy’;
one foot in front of another
until I walked out of myself.
But, like all her perceptions, observations, adventures, it’s a surreality that is felt; her intense gaze, the wondering, the searching is emotionally experienced, existentially grounded within her. This is personal poetry. It’s rather good poetry. Ken Champion