“the last of a word is fading…”

Sudden rainfall, Helen Calcutt, Perdika Press, £4.95
reviewed by Pippa Little

sudden rainfall
Sudden rainfall is an elegantly produced pamphlet, number 18 in a series which presents ‘original and translated work by contemporary poets’ including Jacqui Rowe and Mario Petrucci (one of the series’ editors). The translations, listed on the jacket, are in capitals: APOLLINAIRE, CATALLUS, AKHMATOVA, while the original work is in lower case – Somewhere is January by Petrucci, bedbound by David Pollard and now Sudden rainfall (sic) which mixes the two. I haven’t read any others of this series and am interested in the contrasting choices hinted at in this list. The aim of Perdika Editions is to publish work whose ‘distinctiveness… is complemented by a common commitment to scrupulous innovation, a refashioning of language of and for its time.’

Helen Calcutt’s collection begins with a poem called ‘Sunrise’ and the final poem, ‘Twilight’, ends

…the last of a word
is fading – leaving

the imprint
of rose

In between, poems such as ‘Dawn’, ‘Seasons’, ‘Half Light’ and ‘Storm’ return again and again to light and to natural phenomena such as mist, rain, the wind, to landscapes described obliquely and to suggested states of mind and emotion. There are some lovely images and phrases here (“smoke of flies” and “Frost picks at the sun. Like dew/over a run of metal, hammered bright/into seasonal concentration”), but the overall effect is like trying to decipher an album of old, half-developed negative photographs. They are ghostly and faded, concealing more than they reveal. The heightened note of ‘intense metaphysical probing’ promised on the back cover is undermined for me by a vagueness in approach which uses too many generalisations and abstractions. I’m left baffled by the poem ‘The silence (in the dance of the swallows)’ which includes two questions:

Through iron thickets a quiet
broken evening. Does your head
on the desk resemble the sun
going down beyond itself?

And the concluding:

How do you appear among
dapples of light, when the wall
Is your finger?

The ‘you’ seems to be the poet (and/or the silence) first and then in the second quote the birds, whose “wings/ murmur, as they once did” – but then I am lost with the wall and its finger, as I am confused by the head on the desk resembling the sun going down beyond itself. It’s not that I have read these poems quickly or carelessly – I have read and re-read them as the ‘attentive reader’ invited to do so on the back cover. I may be missing something vital that makes them beat with a pulse, but their nebulous, floating effect leaves me with wanting more blood than mist running through their veins.

Pippa Little

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