“moments seen through other moments”

Sweet Coffee, Margaret Wilmot, £5.00, Smiths Knoll
reviewed by Jim Murdoch
Sweet Coffee image
Margaret Wilmot was born in California and spent various years working in the Mediterranean before settling in Sussex in 1978. ‘Writing, for me, is a tool for making connections and refining perception—always a search . . .’ she writes although I expect most writers could say much the same. I mention her history first because it provides the backbone of the collection: we begin in the States, head through Greece and Egypt and wind up in sunny Eastbourne.

In the title poem of this pamphlet (which you can find here) a premonition and an instance of déjà vu are triggered by a Proustian cup of coffee; “imagination and memory are but one thing,” Hobbes said and which scientists are now proving. In some respects it’s an inconsequential poem—how many cups of coffee do we have in a lifetime?—but it’s a good opener for this collection as Margaret talks a lot about how we perceive distant things. Three poems, for example, use arrows as metaphors, connecting distant objects:

Even as the fullness swells we must give chase,
with arrows consummate the longed-for intimacy.

[‘Ducks, geese’]

Of course the arrows don’t always hit their marks. Instead of remembering a past we reconstruct it; rather than the true past we opt for the preferred past, postcards from the past:

What does one say when it’s cats and primroses
which fill a mind now emptying like a room?
Or maybe not – who can gasp a moment
which brims like light and spills out over things?

[‘Who live each moment now’]

“Things emerge. Fade.” Once we travelled and “not only in the mind”; “one’s whole body entered on a quest”:

Now it’s Google, and the loss of that dull space

along blank streets, when suddenly
you think – and stop to make a note. Or don’t think.

[‘Quanta’]

All the time one thing reminds us of another:

The pond ripples and the duck’s plump breast
lifts, I see the thin sheen
of polished wood, wing feathers etched…

[‘Glimpse’]

Several of the poems are clearly talking about older people struggling to cope. The most poignant, for me at least, was ‘Thinning’:

Terrible this thinning –
yet her body like a plum rests

full of roundness on the chair.
He has cut her meal in little bites, and eats his own

without much mind.

I love the double meaning in that last line. The blurb says, “These are poems about connection—through geography, family, over bridges of thought: moments seen through other moments, the layers which constitute now.” It’s a good description. Google remembers the world but it doesn’t remember us. What makes us us? A drive “along/ the north shore of Lake Erie”, “a pair of Robin Hood boots”, a striped cat who’s “a compendium both of all things/ cat and all the cats [we’ve] ever known”: things, just things, and things they give rise to.

You can hear Margaret read ‘A guard came out’ here. And you can read two more reviews of the pamphlet at Sphinx.

Smiths Knoll has now closed its doors but the collection’s available on the poet’s website.

Jim Murdoch
http://www.jimmurdoch.co.uk/

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