This slim volume is a mysterious and beguiling work which draws you in and yet further in with successive reads. Jane is a winner in Coast to Coast’s first single-author stitched pamphlet competition with Forbidden (in which I am also a prize-winner with my booklet Messages). Our launch is on Feb 23rd in Liverpool. But, and you’ll see why, she wins many competitions! Not only that, Night River Wood published this beautiful book in 2018 .
What strikes you at first in Metastatic is her tender and precise use of natural imagery, how the accumulation of fragility builds and creates echoes. Small creatures thread their way through the poems – a blackbird, a spider, an owl, crows, fireflies, a hare, a vixen, thrushes all bringing with them vulnerability and transience, ‘all singing their minor key’. There are ‘carcases of ideas’, ‘a grassblade of decision’, ‘insolence in the dead beat grass’.
Every poem is a kind of ceremony rendering all their creatures symbolic and sacred, but also entirely themselves in their particularity. This poem, based on an illustration, so magically brings the bird to life but does so much more:
Thrush, Covent Garden, 1792
She has waited over two centuries
for sunlight, beak raised towards
the edge of the page
her nestful of eggs washed grey
and the song of lost days pressed
like a leaf in her heart.
I can tell by her eyes
she’s lived without cloud or sky:
they are earth-brown
Or these lines from Made certain by the sign of birds
… It’s bigger than angels, this updraught of life,
each burst of leaf, each hum of wing and song spilling
like beads of air, the rush of a flatstone creek,
its bellyrock slide and sparkle,
the backwash of blue light ….
Because I love fireflies I was very puzzled to find the phrase ‘nauseous bloom of fireflies’ ( from Two figures in an extensive landscape) but after looking up the word ‘spiculate’ I realised the poems’ craft and power as the series tipped me over the edge into the narrative of medical diagnosis in the first poem through heartbreak as in the poem ‘How do you do the right thing’
When landscapes are untied, hedges
slide into oblivion, fields flap untethered,
their edges fraying to dust,
a thin, uncertain moon pauses in its orbit
and stills the very sea
like breath held, or no breath at all
or in Lanterns with its unflinching gaze and expressed in delicately judged short lines,
In a small room, a tired man
shows us slides,
curls of bone and something spiralling
I hold your hand.
Each and every bone
to my fingertips
Later comes a feeling of comfort as in ‘Solace’ (which you can read in full here) and in all the poems thereafter:
……in that bright room, when it was spelt out for him
so that there was no further question,
it cut away the desperation like a small, curved blade,
left him clear and calm.
This heart-rending and yet understated book ends in a meditative way with this poised and beautiful poem like a prayer, unpunctuated and composed with space and silence around each line:
where there is laughter
in some rooms
and sadness in others
and folded things
to be stored
roses in jugs on the sill
messages and silence
and then spoken
in the quiet dark
and every dawn
the thrush in the park
with its thin bones
and its minor key
so pure and unpredictable
untying a new day
I like the way titles are not capitalised and sometimes run-on to the first line, sometimes don’t. I love the white spaces in all of the poems, their surprising, almost surreal, imagery as if all moments are ‘balanced on a hilltop’, the poems’ quiet confidence.
Jane wins many competitions such as the Wigtown Poetry Festival, Hedgehog Press’ Shades of Fire Competition among others you can see on her website and you can see more of her work on Terrain whose annual competition she has also just won. Whew, no stopping her!