Everyday World Seen Through a New Lens
In the Curator’s Hands’ by Abegail Morley (Indigo Dreams Publishing, £6. www.indigodreams.co.uk) ISBN: 978-1-910834-49-7
You know you’re in strange territory from the opening lines of the first poem, The Depository, in Abegail’s Morley’s new slim volume: “At its darkest point, nothing shifts. In this breathless/place we’re foxed-paper,dip-penned letters”.
Reality is inverted, everyday objects speak back to us, and the dismissably familiar is imbued with intrigue. It’s quite an accomplishment, but Morley sustains the theme and effects throughout twenty-eight poems without once straying into the repetitive, or exhausting the surprises. It says much of her ease with her craft that she takes such a reverse-angled approach while capturing attention. It’s as if we are being invited to look again at the mundane and littered – paper, tickets, dusty toys, ephemera – through new lens, then turn them inside-out to explore their ghost existence. None of which would be possible without the pacing and vibrancy of language to carry our momentum; and here the poet excels. Morley has the best poets’ savvy to know that each line must be revealing without labouring for it; nothing jars; everything flows, her inner ear never falters. I found myself reading these poems with the ease of movement as if they were being whispered to me.
That’s quite a spell to weave. The language, at times, is intoxicating, and she manages to make the simple striking by how it pauses us. Hence, in poems such as ‘Ephemera’, the opening line, “The opposite of how I am lolls at Piccadilly”, is immediate but so unusual in its observation it tempts the reader back. I found myself revisiting it, even as I followed the poem through its vivid collision of street-scene to upfront vision from a bus seat: “I ogle pocket seams, sodden floor-strewn tickets”. There’s a sense here of life being stilled, or drawn to slow-motion so that we observe the disturbing magnitude of its minutaie.
Elsewhere, that knack for the killer line is repeated. In ‘Chronicles’, she shows how a few well-aimed words can distil a storyline, including background characterisation: “When his sister ran away for good this time”. ‘For good’ and ‘this time’– knowing and menace are compressed. Likewise, ‘Hair Wreaths Wrapped in Tissue’ has the undercurrent of threat: “I see his lips twist in a Kirby-grip grin”. I defy any poet to come up with a more shudder-inducing line in 2017 than this, as a commonplace item metaphors sexual sneer. Morley reinterprets the everyday brilliantly. That said, the poem-titles alone attest to one who is alert to the need to offer something newly-minted amid a deluge of writing vieing for our notice. I’m caught, at once, by the strange insistence – with maybe a hint of black humour – of ‘Photograph of Woman in Glassinine Envelope’. The poem is deceptively elegant, while exploring further the recurring impressions of estrangement and loss: “The loop of your voice/finds me flinching 50 metres below street level,/weeping on escalators where people rub hands/on rails”.
For all that disturbance, it’s worth emphasising the poignancy that leaks out from these pages. These are poems that move the reader by how urgent but unobvious they are. In that way, they also carry the depth of empathy and insightfulness of poetry that has no limit on its shelf-life. In a book in which almost any poem might be a highlight, I struggle to choose a favourite, but I’ve found myself returning most to ‘Boxed In’ for how it conjures the childlike wonder and fear of the world through the eyes of a boxed toy: “I’m the girl trapped in the box, stomach/an empty honeycomb/gold drained,/dull lustre,/tinny when struck/by a raised fist.” You get a whole lot of hauntingly affecting poetry for 33 pages here – and it leaves you wanting more.
– Neil Young