Apple Water/Povel Panni: Raine Geoghegan, Hedgehog Poetry Press
Raine Geoghegan was born in the Welsh valleys, and is half Romany with Welsh and Irish ancestry. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Chichester and now lives in West Sussex.
The title of this chapbook, the first to be published by Mark Davidson’s Hedgehog Poetry Press, is an old Romany term for the county of Herefordshire. Attractively produced with several black and white photographs of family groupings to compliment the text, Geoghegan gives us in 10 poems and four prose pieces a vivid evocation of Romany life in the hop fields of Herefordshire and the apple orchards of Worcestershire. There are several words in Romany or Romani – the Indic language of the travelling people – but these are explained in footnotes. Far from being a distraction, these words help to set the scene and add to the authenticity and enjoyment of the text.
Geoghegan prefaces her collection with a quotation from Rimbaud: “Through Nature, I shall rove with / Love my guide, / As Gypsies wander, where they do not know.” Many of her poems and prose pieces read like descriptions of scenes from old photographs through which she conveys a real sense of close-knit family relationships. There is colour, scent and movement everywhere – a red-checked blanket, a brown teapot, a bright orange dress, white lace cloth, a swirling skirt and the scent of Worcester Pearmains.
In the opening poem ‘To Be A Romany’ she gives us a flavour of the Romany way of life:
We worshipped the ground that we walked on,
the fresh air, green spaces, the lungo drom,
meetin’ up with friends, gettin’ the grai ready for travelling
and finding the next atchin tan.
All this and more.
I’ll tell you what it was like to be a Romany in the old days.
It was bloody kushti.
Geoghegan writes knowingly about the essential things in life: work, food, shelter and clothing. She homes in on the importance of things that bring a family together: work in the fields picking fruit, vegetables and hops, meal times and songs. The collection is infused with lullabies, waltzes, ditties and gypsy music.
In ‘I See You In The Hop Fields’ – a poem dedicated to the memory of her mother, she begins with a waltz:
The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck
plays on the radio, a favourite of yours.
Whenever you heard it, you’d twirl around the room,
dipping here and there, the rest of us would groan,
‘Oh no, not Humperdinck again.’
and ends with this image of her mother as a young girl:
I see you smiling.
I hear you say,
‘Daddy, daddy, wait for me.’
For anyone interested in the Romany way of life, Herefordshire or poetry of the natural world, this is a collection not to be missed.