Angela Topping & The Five Petals of Elderflower

It’s a great honour that Angela Topping with her remarkable book The Five Petals of Elderflower is the new Featured Writer.  Published by Red Squirrel Press in 2016, this book is graced with a beautiful cover the colour of sky or an egg-shell, with a tiny understated image of five elderflowers with their five petals.  It immediately makes you think the architecture of this book is important.

The book opens on an elderflower with an intriguing epigraph by John Clare.  The first line Enter through the centre of five petals  brings the reader at once right into the heart of nature:

Leaves far below to catch you if you fall.

But you will not fall: the petioles enmesh.

 Like a spell, this poem, in its five sections, lulls you, holds you, enthrals you and promises you more:

By its green taste, its umbrella canopy,

by the cushion of blooms each with five petals.

By these things I swear to remember you.  

 The you addressed in this book haunts the book like the scent of elderflowers.   But it isn’t  a haunting at all …  it’s more of a resurrection.

The poems proceed from here, lulling you for one minute then alerting you in a small instant to darker undertones and we seem to move, albeit back and forth, from light to dark, from day to night, from summer to winter.  But never letting you feel anything but safe.  She alludes to other poets such as Edward Thomas, John Clare, Robert Frost who lives were deeply troubled by the times they lived in and sought solace in nature.

 Angela Topping is a word conjuror: things are always more than they seem on the surface: for example in Noost she describes a Shetland landscape in a tin:

This is the life you were born for.

Not that narrow place, where you are

pinned like a bug in a specimen drawer.  

 But she is never flashy with her imagery or wordplay, never anything other than totally frank and quietly truthful about mortality, ageing and loss.

This for instance is one of my favourite poems and I will have to give you the whole thing as its unusual in form and the line endings are telling:

Company on the Road

 I was lost

after a diversion

 and in the dark

driving home

from a poetry reading;

you came

as though

death were

 no bar

 to keep

me company

 not by speech –

beyond you now –

but by your scent,

 that musk

of clean sweat

I’d known you by

alive

and a sudden warmth

ran through me

like a flame.   

 

Having started with the magic of elderflowers you later come across the line – nothing is definite except the dark- (from a poem called Spoken Cartography);  or this – one day there will be no promises to keep  (from Studying the Travel Question); or this –  mist covers fell tops/ settling in for the night like a shroud, (from  Coniston Water from Brantwood) we are deeply unsettled, while at the same time  we feel the poet’s joy in nature,  in human warmth and closeness which comes through in every poem.  In On Ghosts it is as if our lost loved ones are with us all the time creating some of the beauty we see and up to their tricks stealing teaspoons or dropping the petals of the last rose on the lawn.

And then in the next and penultimate poem, The Glass Swan, she reminds us –

Look at this fire in the hearth, feel it.

 Bank it up against the night. It is all we have, these

Corporeal things: these candlesticks, this glass swan.  

 The last verse of the book in the poem called Against the Dark (which you can read again in full here)

Let me think these lights shine on

 – as stars are there by day and night –

after they are snuffed and gone.

 Angela is a poetic force and has had no less than eight poetry collections published

 

 

She even has a Wikipedia page here.

I hope you aren’t too late to get a copy of this book if you haven’t already. And if you have, lucky you:

By its green taste, its umbrella canopy,

by the cushion of blooms each with five petals.

By these things, I swear to remember you.

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About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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4 Responses to Angela Topping & The Five Petals of Elderflower

  1. Thank you so much for inviting me, Rebecca. If anyone does want a copy of the book, it’s currently only available from me, £10 including a contribution towards postage. Thank you so much for this extremely perceptive and succinct review.

  2. mavisgulliver says:

    I already have the book but if I hadn’t your excellent review would definitely tempt me.

  3. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Thanks so much for this post and for including all of the entrancing ‘The Five Petals of Elderflower’. Wonderful ! 🎷

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