Tag Archives: Fleur Adcock

“a series of blue-green flashes”

Glass Wings, Fleur Adcock, Bloodaxe, £9.95
reviewed by Rob A. Mackenzie

fleur adcock glass wings
The ‘conversational’ poem that utilises neither strong sonic/rhythmic effects nor a gargantuan vocabulary is easy to write badly and, if it fails to deliver, the reader won’t find much to admire in the attempt. What’s remarkable is when such a poem actually succeeds. How does it do it? What makes it poetry?

A good poem is usually its own best explanation and ‘At the Crossing’, which opens Glass Wings, has no need to justify its brilliant, unshowy self. It is a ‘meaning of life’ poem. Is meaning to be found in the London young grabbing what’s there or kissing “the winged joy as it flies” (paraphrasing Blake’s ‘Eternity’)? in the ungraspable blur and whirl of the city streets? in the young man with cartoonish (perhaps ironic) wings who flickers past and disappears, his wings useless for flight and yet “definite” and, in some way, affirming for the poet?

Is a life filled by what’s grasped (even for seconds) or by what flies past, flickering and blurry? The collection ends with ‘Dragonfly’, “a series of blue-green/ flashes” in a surmised after-life’s “one perpetual day”. Flight acts as something that can’t be pinned down but which holds (in however brief flashes) a key to joy. The young man and his wings are reprised in the dragonfly:

a contraption of steel and cellophane
whose only verbs are dart, skim, hover.
One day is enough to remember.

These two excellent poems act as bookends for everything between: occasions of birth, love and death, a selection on insects. Jo Shapcott (back cover blurb from the TLS) says, “those who see in such poems only flatness are missing the power of a voice which teases both reader and subject.” However, when the power is missing, flatness remains. In ‘Flea’, an art dealer is embarrassed when a flea is discovered in his car:

his discomfiture will be repeated
until he stops being in denial
and takes the car to be fumigated.

The poem meanders like this, prosily, until we discover that Adcock is allergic to fleas (so what?). Well, the collection isn’t flawless, but is worth reading for the good poems, which tend to be very good indeed. The insect poems come alive when detail is most vivid, research most pointed. Poems on ancestors and contents of wills are fascinating, but some less so than others. There are small moments in which lives (and poems) take unexpected turns, as in ‘The Belly Dancer’, a fine example of humour, timing and detail combining to give subtle resonance to apparently conventional language. The aging, increasingly reclusive, former belly dancer’s face appears in a hallway and forgetting

whether or not we were social kissers,
I bounced my lips on it. It seemed we were not.

That “bounce”! The mass of information contained in “it seemed we were not”! The belly dancer disappears, the house is gutted and cleared out, all evidence of her existence is erased, except for the poem’s final half-line – “I won’t forget the kiss.” I will remember the poem.

Rob A. Mackenzie