This is Not A Rescue: Emily Blewitt, Seren
Several things are clear from this collection: Emily Blewitt loves cats and she adores reading Jane Austen. She also has a penchant for American documentaries. Blewitt was born in Carmarthen, studied at Oxford and York and has a PhD from Cardiff University. This Is Not A Rescue is her debut collection. The title poem was highly commended for best individual poem in the 2016 Forward prizes.
The cover artwork by Karin Jurick hints at what is to come because cats and other animals frequently populate this collection. Blewitt is most at ease when writing about animals. She has studied their movements well. Of particular interest are those poems which blur the boundaries between animals and humans. In the poem ‘When I Think of Bald Men’ vultures unexpectedly come to the fore:
… vultures that are nicknamed Bearded Vulture,
Slender-Billed Vulture, Red-Headed Vulture, White-Rumped Vulture
by their vulture friends. Every office has some –
you know the men I mean. The ones that are reluctant
to fly; the ones that hiss when threatened.
Similarly, in the prose poem ‘How to Explain Hiraeth to an Englishman’ where we are told that Hiraeth is one of those untranslatable Welsh words that is roughly equivalent to the soul’s longing for home, the subject is populated with greyhounds and in ‘Witness’ a boy is described as a cormorant. These unexpected, extended metaphors present Blewitt at her best.
‘The Walking Wed’ with its suggestion of ‘the walking wounded’ is a tightly-crafted poem suggesting that life and all its important stages is some kind of endurance test:
So it’s arrived: the zombie apocalypse. The trick
is to keep moving; like guests at a wedding,
we begin at the bar and creep past
sweating ushers who know their turn is coming –
inexorably coming, staggering and shunting
towards them like an old train carriage or a barge
on a canal through a tunnel …
In this collection there are shipwreckers and there are home wreckers, love poems, weddings, recovery and self-defence. The subject matter is wide enough to hold our interest and attention. Within these subjects there are references to characters invented by Jane Austen, (‘Devouring Jane’), The Addams Family (‘Resolution’) and Star Wars (‘Boba Fett and Sarlacc’). Welsh customs are also described in ‘How to Marry a Welsh Girl’.
In ‘Things My Dance Teacher Used to Say’ we learn much about the dance teacher and also her pupil even though it is only the dance teacher who is doing the speaking. This is a fine poem that works on several levels. These are the things that the dance teacher once said - they are not cast in direct speech but in reported speech. They are the things that the pupil, for one reason or another, has remembered. There is a dreamlike stream of consciousness feel to the poem rendered by the absence of punctuation and the short, disembodied lines. Just as the pupil recalls these sayings, so we the readers will continue to remember the memorable turns of phrase and lines of thought to be found in this book. Recommended.