Gifts the Mole Gave Me. Wendy Pratt.
Valley Press £9.99 ISBN: 9781908853882 pp 76
Gifts the Mole Gave Me is restrained and uninhibited, disciplined and free-flowing, rhythmic and discordant.
Pratt is skilled at capturing the sensations, attributes, and instinctive nuances of things, ideas, and experiences through clean and fitting imagery. ‘In Search of the Perfect Purse’ evokes the spectrum of difference between our passion for, and possession of, an object:
Even though I know it’s downstairs
in the junk drawer, its broken-zipped
mouth gaping, still holding
the train tickets and Metro pass
from Paris, I want to own it again.
How we first love objects for how they project and protect us; how they become time capsules of who we were and how we understood the world! Here we witness the indefinable transition between intimacy and idleness as love fades, circumstances change, and the shift in sentiment that renders the object more useless than any broken zip possibly could.
Pratt’s poems navigate the introspective and observational in touching, unusual, and humorous ways. ‘In Scarborough’ is a light and pertinent invocation of the sleepy seaside town gearing itself up for the summer season:
We’ve been huddled as gulls while the North
has been shut down. Now someone’s fed the meter
and we can all begin again.
‘Starlings’ is a fresh and evocative look at the comfort of old friendships:
When my mum returns
to her kith and kin
she becomes a starling on a wire
while ‘This is Where We Nearly Died’ embodies the acute perception of the world we acquire in moments of genuine crisis:
They don’t tell you, on the plastic sheet,
when to say I love you.’
The soul of this collection is in the poems concerned with the invisible and pervasive loss of a child. The gift of these poems is the balance Pratt strikes between the deeply intimate loss of her daughter through stillbirth, and the hidden prevalence of an experience from which no culture or country is exempt. ‘Amazing Grace’ aches with this ‘sudden and inexplicable’ heartbreak. The image of the new, bereaved parents:
Their unnatural smiles, their heads
flicking back and forth, knowing that these
are the only images they’ll have
is fraught with the intersections of life and death: celebration and mourning; grief and gratitude; the desire to forget twinned with the compulsion to remember.
In ‘Heptonstall Graveyard’ we witness the tender sorrow of a mother picking a final resting place for her child ‘I couldn’t have placed you here, in this wind’. The simplicity of the statement captures the power of maternal instinct to endure the ultimate hardship. Significantly, she chooses instead:
modern field where the new builds’ bathrooms
back onto you, and the children squeal on trampolines.
The field may be bleak, but it is near the living, specifically the new life of new homes and the young children growing up in them. And so, the child is laid to rest, lovingly ‘mouthed into the soil’ into a world that will grow around her. Not apart from, but rather among, the living.
It is in our public and religious holidays, our birthdays and anniversaries, our rites and rituals, that we most often bear out Vico’s understanding of time as cyclical and not linear. Alongside these celebrations are those once unimportant dates that in a moment- a phonecall, a text, a knock at the door- come to dominate our personal calendars. This concept in borne out in ‘Stepping into My Own Footprints’ and ‘Sixth Birthday’ which keen with memories both real and desired, with shadows both hopeful and haunting.
You would still be small enough
to pull onto my knees; a kindling
The legacy of stillbirth is that of concealed grief. ‘Learning to Cry Quietly’ gives voice to the pain that lives on long after the world has stopped asking.
Two years, three, the ricocheting shrapnel
of a fourth birthday comes only to us, then,
and can’t be shared.
The tone in the latter part of the poem speaks to the restraint Time imposes on the wildness of grief, without diminishing its capacity to cause pain: each birthday is ‘ricocheting shrapnel’; every birthday still a moment of being caught out, ripped apart, and silenced.
And so it is through this collection her daughter grows. Pratt ventures beyond the prayer cards and platitudes and her poems carry the weight of this life-long loss with grace and balance. Combined with her careful attention to sound, imagery, and emotional verisimilitude, Pratt’s work generates a genuine and heartfelt investment in her poetry.