‘Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird’ Review

A resolution I have just made is to appear a little more often. It’s my blog after all and I will blog if I want to (but not if I don’t!)

Firstly, let me say a Happy 2022 to you all… fingers tightly crossed/breathing deeply.

I was invited to review Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird last year and this filled me with trepidation as I have imposter syndrome about writing my opinions about other people’s poetry! However, in doing so, I learned to love this book even more.

A version of this review appeared in Caduceus last autumn and as you may have missed it (and anyway I think it was cut), I thought I’d share it with you now:

Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird is an exquisite duet and should be read over and over to hear all the resonances. Gina Litherland’s cover depicts two women sitting over a pot of tea with a tame bird and a curious goat while the tea leaves in the cup are a mystery to be solved. 

I delighted in the way each poem speaks to the last one and makes its own way forward step by step illumined by both light and darkness.  The poems connect together forward and back as though they are music. 

The poem Running ends with

But sometimes in the night I do look back,

and its not like lights seen from a train –

it’s there on the track, train coming.

I run, keep running.

This is followed by The Light We Can’t See:

                                                                        And when I think

of Linda, I can’t help catching some exuberance,

as if death is the same kind of excitement that comes each morning

when darkness lifts. That simple happiness.

Content ranges from sex and love to ageing and death, looking back at both life and family history where both poets love the light but are unafraid to stare into the face of the dark:

I’ve learned not to put my secret longings into words,

but hold them close in the darkness, like the sun at midnight.     (from The Hanged Man)

In the title poem, Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird, the poet recalls her landlord looking at her newborn and saying You’ll never be alone now, triggering these lines: 

But it’s in the spaces that life really happens

and what I see now is there’s contentment

in the humdrum: silver domes of rain

on someone’s brolly in the queue for the bus…

In the following poem How can we bear it?  the very question How can you bear it?  is what leads the poet to leave a prestigious job because

When we are ready people are sent to help us surrender

to the not knowing…

it taught me to hear things in shells, to notice the in-between,

the weeds (les mauvais herbes), the hidden path, interstices. 

That it’s a very frank dialogue between two mature women in full possession of their poetic powers somehow serves to draw the reader in so that you also find yourself gasping in amazement or agreement as if you were there.  The tone is often marvellously conversational, achieved  effortlessly alongside deep poetic insights.  There’s the story of a man who insists on keeping his watch on in bed, said he felt naked without it and another idiot who said he kept his eyes closed during sex so he wouldn’t fall in love.   These candid details about their own life-histories enable each poet to become more discursive and helps each to carry their distinctive and lyrical perceptions.  

This collaboration has created far more than the shape of what was gone.  And with repeated references to light and dark, to love and solitude, these poems seem to sing to one another across the collection: The Ground We Stand On ends with

It takes a long time

to find our life’s work – to learn what real loving is.

while Hands Like Ours, the book’s finale, finishes with

 We are capable of more love than we know.

That’s something to reach for, isn’t it,

in the dark of the night?

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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1 Response to ‘Aloneness is a Many-Headed Bird’ Review

  1. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Thanks for the New Year wishes and the same to you. Glad to see a new blog post and the review. The book sounds intriguing. Love the title and the cover. xx

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