Sunday, 22 April 2018

Light After Light, the debut poetry collection by Victoria Gatehouse (Valley Press 2018)

Victoria Gatehouse is a Ripponden based poet who I first had the pleasure of meeting at the Sowerby Bridge Library poetry group, and whose poetry has, over the last five or so years, been a continual source of inspiration and joy.  Light After Light (Valley Press 2018) is her debut publication, containing a wealth of enticing, subtly enlightening poems, including the winners of the 2011 Ilkley Literature Festival Poetry Prize, and the 2015 Poetry News Members' competition:

You strike the first match - 
the room lurches 
from black to indistinct

before colour reasserts itself
in ambers and golds.

(From Power Cut, winner of the 2015 Poetry News Members' competition)




With a day job as a clinical researcher, the author has skillfully interwoven the scientific and the personal, the visual and the emotional, and the book's blurb describes how Victoria Gatehouse explores science and art in her debut poetry publication, seeking out the similarities and tensions that attract and repel them in equal measure...she collects, tests, measures and records her thoughts on the materials from which we each build our lives both practical and spiritual.

Then I dipped
the nichrome loop while his inky fingers

flicked air valves closed,
turned the Bunsen blue. He gave me

goggles and the briefest of glances
through reinforced plastic

before I edged the loop
to the hottest place 
(Flame Test) 

Light After Light is a wonderful collection of sublime, finely crafted poetry - a tender, reflective, sometimes very funny, suite of poems which manage to be somehow earthy and ethereal at the same time. From the fragile intimacy prompted by a power cut - your face, as you reach / for the corkscrew, is like it was / before the lines crept in, / all the rough edges blurring. / We're adrift, you and I / in aureoles of light - to the unexpected beauty of pylons and the wonders of fungi - saffron milkcaps, chantrelles, / destroying angels, slippery jacks. / Theirs, a poetry that fruits on decay - the collection segues between the lyrically descriptive, and the poignancy of understatement. The titles are often deceptive - Blackpool offers a poignant vision of that seaside town quite at odds with its frolicksome reputation, while Recording the Phlebotomist conjures up an enticing flight of fancy inspired by a hospital notice prohibiting patients from videoing the phlebotomy process:

I suppose I could, at this point,
take out my phone to record
his newly-disinfected hands twist
the tourniquet light, delicate fingers
flicking the inside of my elbow
in exactly the right place to summon
the blue.


From the micro to the macro, the book takes in such unlikely subjects as dental braces, burning mouth syndrome, wind turbines, and pylons:

Sometimes I think of the pylons,
so ubiquitous we tune out

their dark glower over moorland
motorway and housing estate,

move unseeing beneath
massive steel shoulders

that never sag
from the weight of the Grid.

These are lonely Stoics,
their fate to hold

the power, yet never to feel
electrons leap

through the wires that hang
from wrist to twisted wrist.



 Elsewhere, we are treated to a lovely appearance by The Sowerby Bridge Geese:

patrolling the High Street - 
ganging up on the corner by The Long Chimney, 
intimidating passers-by with a show 
of downy muscle, a half-lift of wings, 
causing tail backs when they choose 
to cross the road, a twenty-strong gaggle 
impervious to hoots.

Knowing the geese as I do, I can vouch for the anecdotes in this splendid poem - its absolutely spot-on, and captures the character of these eccentric, much-loved local treasures perfectly!

 

The poems embody a certain consciousness of place, and Vicky enchants the reader with her skill of bringing her local West Yorkshire landscape to life:
And after the snow ploughs and gritters
have passed, the moors' hunched backs

retain seams of white. You come to know
the shapes of them, these snow-fossils -

the gleam of a rib, the splintered ridge

of a clavicle, the shrinking plates of a spine


 In a poetry rooted firmly in the natural environment she describes - in poems like Hymn for the Ash, for example, when we are told of that green-flame tug / curl into heartwood, / limbs sap-sticky, skin / like lichen plaques, we feel a tangible sense of the tree's existence borne of empathy rather than mere observation. The poet, without a single self-reference, is "in" the scene, and the reader is lulled into a folkloric dream of a newly budding resurgence of life:

Spring brings leaf-light
to the woodland floor,
explosions of flowers-
dog violets, garlic,

fruit clusters on twigs;


 
This is a hopeful, quietly optimistic, beautiful book, in which light is suffused often unexpectedly - a bulb alluring the affections of a moonlit moth - and acts as a bridge between people. Lives are illuminated briefly by closeness or companionship, in the shallows of the sea, under a tent, and every interaction is underpinned by close attention to detail - the striking of a match, rolled up cigarettes, the operation of scientific equipment, the holding of a camera to record the phosphorescence of the sea, all are little ignitions which momentarily shed light onto the world.






2 comments:

  1. I like the sound of this collection - one that is '...hopeful, quietly optimistic' - well needed at the moment.

    ReplyDelete