ANNE ELIZABETH BEVAN
Lapwing Publications, Belfast.
Testament, Cork based poet Anne Bevan’s first collection of poems, has already received praise from reviewers:
Anne’s poetry gets straight to the heart of the matter – whatever subject matter she alights upon. Her words transport you on an inner journey of the mind and soul; you find yourself connecting willingly and easily with her as she lays bare her emotions. John Dolan, Holly Bough Editor
This collection is loud with female strength: the strength of women delivering babies into better futures, and of beautiful, monstrous fertility goddesses who deal death as carelessly as life. With her fine, raw, visceral lines, with her interrogation of the interplay of gentleness and brutality, Bevan finds a way to ‘weep a song’ for the past which is also a battle cry of survival. Kathy D’Arcy, Poet
From the opening poem, A SONG FOR MOTHER, women are the heroines of the collection:
She ground her teeth,
watching me, unshakable, ready,
each word a reddened scar across my
soft white skin. Bleeding salty tears
and good intentions,
emptying my childhood treasures
carelessly to the orange carpet.
Silent then, she shook back her
dark hair, reddish in the
evening sun. Dancing leaf patterns
stitched her mind together, raw
threads reflecting that other time.
Each year clicked roughly into place
and burned softly at our feet.
I didn’t notice her turn grey, it happened
while I slept in daydreams and doorways;
her voice continued not to reach me. I
waited ‘til her mouth stopped moving
and left; behind me a limestone
woman, her colour seeped into a faded
orange carpet and I wept a song.
The poems show women facing hardships, in domestic settings and family relationships, and in a range of circumstances. We see them when the wider world impinges on their domestic lives, in times of economic hardship or time of war. Female strength, in this range of different settings and circumstances, is described and celebrated throughout the collection
The short poem APRIL 1945 provides just one example of their determination and resilience:
She sits at the pavement cafe
sipping her coffee, inhaling her habit,
the dilapidated shop front framing her
perfect pout, fiery red lips, firm and brave
in the face of wartime sounds.
Stockings painted on bare legs shimmer
the illusion coloured by lies;
a brilliant actress in a bit part.
The women Anne Bevan presents to the reader are survivors: they survive personal tragedies and disillusionment, their dreams half-forgotten, and a pile of disappointments. Some are forced to extremes to provide for their families: Woman holds her skirts up high, to the landlord who calls to collect the rent, and to pay for food to put on the table for their families. They battle until they are little more than pain and nothing more than breath on winter window.
The poet presents an equally vivid depiction of the children who are caught up in the domestic struggle against hardship. She shows typical childhood fears whisperings in the dark that keep you awake at nights, but also those specific to the hardships of their particular domestic world. This is depicted movingly in the poem BROWN LETTY, where a child fears for the life of a favourite hen:
Letty hops into my arms, a loving chicken and I warn her
to avoid the yard on Saturday mornings. That day
we have chicken for dinner, always chicken.
Mother wrings their feathered necks
with hard strong fingers, hands
wrinkled and dry from work.
Every Saturday I cry.
The progressively shorter lines used in each stanza give a strong sense of time running out – for the chicken, but also for childhood innocence.
This is a world where brutality is contrasted with gentleness: a child’s back can bear weals and a corset of scars; a mother can provide benediction, but also retribution. Respite from hardship seems ever all too brief. Mothers struggle to raise their children, and wish a better future for their offspring. A daughter sees her mother as a woman with a proud face and a strong stance, a brave and powerful warrior woman.
The poet uses descriptions of domestic animals and everyday objects to provide ‘testament’ and bear witness to the lives of her characters: a chair, a table, plaster ducks on a parlour wall, a carpet, a hearthrug, chipped red paint, a jacket that smells of turf fires and cigarette smoke, a Massey Ferguson tractor. Dead parents appear in the grooves in the peeling paint of a doorframe. A prowling cat and feeding chickens appear in several poems – language linking the poems together.
In some poems the use of a more regular rhythm or the use a rhyme scheme can appear intrusive, detracting from the power of thought and language. More successful is the use of a list, as in SHE:
She was palest chardonnay, bitter sweet, delicate.
She was smoky rooms, alive with laughter.
She was brown earth, damp and rich.
She was kindling, sharp and dry.
She was bronze, shiny and robust.
She was melody, breathed deeply.
She was dewdrop, sad and transitory.
She was kitten, barking.
She was flightless bird.
She was passion, greyed.
Elsewhere, the characters are brought to life by the use of dialogue: girl’and old fool – give a sense of the relationship of a long-established couple; sure, I’m alright and cheers sis convey the familiarity of other relationships; do you think the hens will feed themselves captures the exasperation of the mother, bringing the reader back once more to the powerful presentation of the female characters which is the stand-out feature of this promising first collection.