A Small Wave for your Form is the title of Susan Taylor’s new collection from Oversteps Books. The arresting phrase is the first line of St Brighid’s blessing for the newly born and is an apt name for a book that contains many new-borns: babies, calves, lambs, cygnets to name but a few. Taylor is well known among poetry journals and on the poetry reading circuit, and was also short-listed for the Templar prize.
She weaves her spells to open the reader’s heart, mind, eyes. She renders what she calls The Commonplace remarkable, conjuring feelings from the landscape, from the moon, from everyday tasks – ‘It was a calling as natural
as his calling the cattle and sheep.’
This comes in a poem called Easy Does It which is about her farmer father who sang ‘in the comfort and shelter of cows.’ The poem’s metre makes for a fine folk-dance kind of music.
In every poem she demonstrates how using simple diction plumbs deep human feeling. By deftly balancing a precarious line between spoken voice and prosiness the writing feels limpid as in this poem called Tributary to Dart:
‘When she looks over the side,
the water, as predicted,
assumes her face.’
Apart from the precision of the image the surprise of ‘as predicted’ lifts it way out of the poetic.
Each poem brims with tenderness and intimacy without spilling over into sentimentality because of the sense of humour that often bubbles up. Swan Shift contains a quasi-erotic meeting of woman with nature and is leavened with little touches, ‘His eyes were twin black seeds.’ She feels it necessary to hide the tail feathers she has collected. Everywhere there is parenthood and the poem shifts back into the wonder of the swan family:
‘Seven swans settle at the feet of a woman
Who stands dazzled before them – and mute.’
This poem is written in couplets the line-endings are well-chosen being both humorous and measured by turns.
The collection is technically diverse – not formal but formed – with every word and line meticulously honed –
‘Our bodies shine like leaves
With the first sun through them.’
For me, the word ‘through’ is particularly apposite being far more vivid than the alternative word ‘on’.
The language in the earlier poems about childbirth and childcare express those small but overwhelming and inexpressible moments, while later come the ambiguities. She captures the fleeting moments of joy and strangeness in the experience of a new baby as well as the way new mothers’ bodies can bleed and hurt: in The Screaming she fans ‘love on to this hot child …..’ and wedges ‘concern like cottonwool/into each little despair.’
In another poem, Milking she skilfully resurrects a cow that ate too much barley because she was distracted and the lines,
‘If only I could sometimes sink my head
Into the live arch of her warm groin
And hand milk into the pail’s white well,
Hearing the ring of my father’s hands
take me with her, back to the warm cow shed. In other poems there are fond memories of her mother’s ‘Cum’on’ to call in the sheep; her father’s sowing of grass seeds ‘like an infinity sign in the air’. Taylor’s writing contains a rich personal or familial history and the whole collection resonates with this sense of physical intimacy and closeness. This, for me, is poetry as clear as water in a pool and when she reads her own work I really do feel enchanted as if she were ‘breathing the bones into’ me.