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Homecoming: Joanna Ezekiel, Valley Press

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Joanna Ezekiel has worked as a teacher, bookseller and librarian; she has had a British Jewish upbringing, and is of Indian Jewish heritage. She is the author of five books of poetry, and Homecoming is her second full collection. Typical is its opening poem as the writer prepares to return home – “I’ll want my navy frock that sweeps the knee, / Vermilion lipstick, brogues”, and remembers “how caramel bubbles, then hardens, / bittersoft edges burn my fingers.”

The cooking and domesticity become analogous; whoever is waiting for her will wait “in dishwater civvies, whistle, scuff gravel / at a corner baked with rubble / where, underfoot, streets are thin gravy” as she plunges “through daylight’s / silted sugars towards you, rinse out / the unwound clock … (‘Homecoming’)

There are food references throughout her work: chicken, coriander, corn beef pie, paprika, peas and rice, plump cakes, dough, chapattis. Home is also about embroidery, “thread magenta, cinnamon, aqua, / I taught him blackwork …" (‘Priceless’), and family:


   Nan sits alone, no apron,

    frowns at my swinging legs.

    I imagine long grass swaying

    in time to Hebrew rhythms.


   From the children’s table

    I gaze at the square lawn

    of dance floor, sewn with disco beats.

    My little brother wears a bow tie.

    We clap our hands.

                                    (‘Bridesmaid, Essex, 1976’)


  You wrote as if a silver screen

    was big enough to hold a world


    where your descendants would scatter –

    England, Ahmedabad, Israel, Canada.

                     (‘For Joseph David, my great-grandfather who wrote Hollywood films’).


There are forays into Syria:


   Sunrise spreads and behind

    the sky booms and  booms

    a burnt clock close by

    smoke thickens to blue

    It moves like a demon

    tastes of mortar and blood.

                                           (‘Tower block, Syria’)


and Mumbai, though even here Ezekiel is reminded of home:


   Ships   old    moored in the distance

    remind me of my ancestors


    once castaways along this shore

    like lost biblical passages

    a Jewish thread that has me

    flying over the Arabian sea

                                                   (‘Mumbai Morning’)


She writes of women and girls that “stand square  as hay bales, wait to fill sacks, / their muted green overalls  against the lime wheat" ('Wartime Wheatfield)', and of others:


   They call us parasites

    while oakum thorns steal our blood,

    paler than sunrise.


   We cannot tell you that we dream

    of being reborn with a kiss,

                                                          (‘Women Picking Oakum in the Workhouse’)


There are blackbirds, a bus shelter - like a scene in a play for three characters – a grocer’s daughter, the Shambles, Malta, urban poems of traffic and memories. Rarely, if ever, does the author lapse into cliché, though “cacophony” …“like a holiday” - jars a little.

This is an intriguing, sensitively observed and keenly crafted collection. Joanna Ezekiel carries her culture, as we all inescapably do, with her wherever she may be, and in this collection she is nearly always “at home”. It is a book to be fond of. Read it. You will read it again.

Ken Champion


Joanna Ezekiel, Homecoming, Valley Press, £7.99



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