“The slow unbraiding”

Homecoming, Carrie Etter, Dancing Girl Press
reviewed by Pippa Little

etter homecoming
Homecoming is a starkly beautiful pamphlet collection of 18 poems written for a melancholy homecoming: a daughter from far away returns to her dying father. The terrain is set out unflinchingly in the first poem where a fatal accident on the line stops the train in which the daughter rides home. Death comes close, palpable yet invisible.

The final prose poem, ‘A Better Grief’, looks back on the journey both emotional and geographical which the daughter has undertaken and weighs up the distances travelled, the place she has reached now:

“The slow unbraiding. As of waters easing into separate channels. To resolve means to loosen.”

The poems in between chart this process of “slow unbraiding” through the stages of desperate loss towards a kind of acceptance, an uneasy peace. The daughter’s fierce love for her father, her protectiveness of his frailty, is evoked without sentimentality and with forensic precision in ‘The Reclamation’ but for me the collection’s driving force is the poet’s exploration of bereavement and grief’s effects. Etter’s poems are visceral: she describes grief in the ways it changes the body, destabilises it. “…I kept falling/ as though descent were all I knew’ ‘…nothing mitigated// the plummet’s force.” (‘The Chorus’).

One particularly striking poem, ‘Pursuit, Dublin’, personifies grief as a nightmarish “destroying angel” on a crowded street. Shoppers “absorb him without a shriek” because he is only for her: loss has taken her into a sealed world where she “erode[s] by grains” towards disintegration of the self. Anyone who has lost a loved person will be able to recognise such states.

There are many further layers to these poems, including their sense of the absurd and a wry humour, as in the relationship between sisters in ‘Birthday’. Use of language and image is economical and effective. The chasm between the daughter’s childhood Midwest home where “All roads out of town part fields of corn, fields/ of soybean, each farm fixed by a clapboard house,/ by a silo gleaming its silver in the setting sun” (Proportion’) and the ‘West Country’ of her adult home in the UK “where it rains and rains and it rains” (‘His Pantoum’) serves to remind us movingly of all kinds of gaps and distances. That the hometown’s called Normal, Illinois, is also a source of mordant amusement. The arrangement of the poems without titles or page numbers serves to deepen their intensity. These are poems I will want to read again.

Pippa Little

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