‘Collision’ Claire Walker
Against the Grain
ISBN 9781999790776, 25pp, £7
‘Collision’ is a collection of 16 poems set at the seaside. Not the jolly seaside of holidays and daytrips but the lived seaside where people seek to earn and love. The poems are contemporary in tone. In ‘A Tattooist’s Mistake’, a tattooist is asked to ink a mermaid with red hair,
‘Her tail sweeps into existence,
every scale an emerald jewel.
I shade gradual darkness,
a swell around her hips.
After you leave,
you spend the night beachcombing –
she, supple in the twist of your arm.
You return at sunrise, hollow-eyed,
ask me for starfish, seaglass, oysters;
the entire spill of the ocean.’
The selection of emerald for the mermaid’s tail is significant. It is linked to the heart chakra and thought to symbolise enduring love, fertility and nature.
There are four poems that give voice to the palaeontologist Mary Anning who discovered and collected fossils along the Jurassic coast in her native Dorset. In ‘At the Museum’,
‘In glass cases, bigger than my childhood home,
they display the rocks of my life’s work.
Together men caw like gulls over scraps,
applaud their knowledge and its evolutionary weight.
They will not, yet, accept these finds as a woman’s ,
will not acknowledge my days searching the tide;
days when the sky could do anything – layers
of grey and blue stacked against each other.
How easily we set ourselves this way:
man over woman. They call me Handmaid,
think I gather pretty shells in my bonnet’
‘Handmaid’ has taken on a loaded significance with the recent television series based on Margaret Attwood’s novel, although whether the poem was written before or after is unknown. Mary Anning continued her work despite the lack of recognition in her lifetime. The sharp, short vowels in the stanza where men fail to acknowledge her work give way to softer rhythms in the stanzas describing how she continued regardless, knowing she was doing important work nonetheless. It suggests she was more comfortable out exploring the coast rather than in stuffy museums.
The title poem ends the collection.
‘In this, the beginning of our new start,
we tip-toe around our broken boat,
washed up for us to reach for splintered oars.
We won’t deny this evidence,
this collision with the sea wall.
We circle slowly, no grip left on our boots,
nervous of slipped on jagged rocks.
Neither of us mentions our clumsiness
when we reach for each other in the dark’
It’s easy to read the collision of boat against sea wall as a metaphor for the relationship hitting the rocks and needing a new start. However, a sea wall is man-made, not a natural rocky outcrop or sandbar. That suggests the couple contributed to their rocky patch. But, as they rescue the boat, they learn to trust and help each other, avoiding mentioning faults and criticising, which bodes well for the relationship’s future.
‘Collision’ is a lyrical collection exploring the sea and human experience. Claire Walker uses concise images and a spare vocabulary to convey impermanence reflecting on the poems’ contents. She uses craft and skill to create a short collection that carries the weight of a longer book.