True Tales of the Countryside: Deborah Alma, The Emma Press
What a treat for lovers of exuberant, lusty, warm-hearted poetry - Deborah Alma’s first collection of her own gutsy poems, plus her Anti-Stress Anthology which she uses in her guise as the Emergency Poet, complete with ambulance and poetic medicine for every dire occasion.
The London-born, Wales-living writer begins her True Tales of the Countryside pamphlet collection with a declaration of intent called ‘I put a pen in my cunt once’ which gives you an idea of where we’re heading, but in some ways it’s misleading. Yes she’s blunt, yes she says it how she sees and feels it. But there is a tenderness and gentleness beneath much of the work here.
Take ‘Running Away’ with its references to Caradoc Coaches, red kites whooshing the wind, the peckled rocks and the sheep-bitten grass. Or ‘Aldi’ with a view of a marriage seen from the tills of Tesco and rival cut-price stores. ‘Fridge Magnets’ is another gem, sharply observant but not cynical:
Middle aged women
who have had some pain in their lives
are very wise. You kindly come over
with cakes and cards and fridge magnets
with wisdom written thereon
‘Cattle Lorry Lover’ and ‘Getting It’ are about sex but also about so much more. ‘Pink Pyjama Suit’ recalls the Anglo-Indian Alma being encouraged to do a show and tell with a difference at school.
Knock on all six doors and tell them
Miss Minchin says I must show the children
My clothes from Pakistan
‘My Mother moves Into adolescence’ is funny and moving and frustrating all at once and one of my favourites in the collection. The final eponymous poem has some exquisite and uncomfortable stanzas. In the second she gives a lift to a younger, hippy-ish girl:
I could see me in her a bit,
twenty years ago, before babies, divorce,
Guardian Soulmates, other shit.
The trouble was my boyfriend –
A health and safety officer,
Today working at the abattoir in Rhayader –
Got into the car stepping out of the shiny, red puddles,
Smelling strongly of beef,
On his white collar
A terrific debut collection.
Anyone who has encountered Deborah with her white coat and ambulance will be aware of her poetic potions for ailments, both physical and spiritual. The Emergency’s Anti-Stress poetry anthology has some old favourites and lots of new wise words to consider and her introductions are as valuable as the poems themselves. When she prescribes a poet I know, she chooses an unfamiliar poem and I found her taste in newer poets impeccable. There is Brian Patten’s ‘Inessential Things’, which starts with “What do cats remember of days?” and ends
Cats remember what is essential of days.
Letting all other memories go as of no worth
They sleep sounder than we,
Whose hearts break remembering so many
Perfect for days “when the world is too much with us” (Wordsworth is included, too).
‘Insomnia has had a very bad press’ by Penelope Shuttle and ‘Awake at night’ by Meg Cox were both unknown to me and both are marvellous.
Alma has “word-pills” for every human condition – matters of the heart need John Clare, Rossetti and a touch of Rilke. For ageing try a tincture of Elaine Feinstein or a few drops of Housman and Muriel Stuart. In the grip of illness, Char March’s ‘Another box of nipples arrived today’ could be just the thing. Or try some Hopkins with a dose of MacCaig to follow.
This is a wonderful collection. Everyone visiting a doctor should be given a copy. Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn might suggest it.