Deborah Harvey’s The Shadow Factory – Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee
Deborah Harvey The Shadow Factory reviewed

‘The Shadow Factory’ Deborah Harvey

Indigo Dreams Publishing

ISBN 978-1-912876-20-4

The title comes from the destination sign of a bus in Bristol, but, as Deborah Harvey never travelled far enough to discover what ‘The Shadow Factory’ was, it became a place of wishes and unrealised dreams. Those in the know recognise it is as Patchway’s Shadow Factory, built in 1937 to support the aircraft industry during the Second World War. It no longer exists. The idea of a storage of wishes and dreams is a better purpose. In the title poem, 

‘Perhaps it retired to a sunlit meadow,

sat itself down by a puttering stream

far from the whine of lathes, the scream of Harrier jump jets

perfecting hand shapes from watching wild rabbits,

learning how bats navigate by sound shadow

on moonless nights.’

Man-made fabrications aren’t much welcome here, especially when they interrupt or destroy nature. It’s hard to disagree that ‘sunlit meadows’ are not preferable to derelict buildings, even if weeds and creepers are gradually reclaiming them. A note left behind in Chernobyl in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster is the inspiration for ‘The Good Dogs of Chernobyl’, the note said, ‘Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.’

‘So they stayed where they were told,

they never lost their faith

not even when the buses left

and the fallen star hissed flame and cracked

the air was thick with ash, the rain burned black,

and no one told them what they were

no one stroked their crackling fur’

The dogs forget how to react to humans, that they were once named, but it’s imagined that they survived.

Elsewhere, attention turns to art and ‘A Perfect Circle’ and the search for which artist drew one for the Pope ‘to prove his art’ only for Newton to prove that planets ‘don’t orbit in circles’ and no one cared about a perfect circle when grandmother dished out her apple pie,

‘Why set store by perfection anyway,

isn’t the bubble of a gibbous moon

blown through the sky above Mardon Down

astounding enough

and that pair of buzzards over Salisbury chalk

their elliptical, spiralling double helix

won’t you carry that memory in your DNA

for the rest of your life?’

Nature is a source of wonder and healing again. There’s a four poem sequence looking at Leonora Carrington’s work, each stands alone too but their impact is accumulated when they are presented together. The last is ‘IV The Giantess (The Guardian of the Egg) (c1947-50)’ as the guardian

‘freed the geese that led her

to her unknown home.

As for the terror

that overwhelmed her

she’s put it behind her

so let waves rise, mound themselves into hillocks

miniscule men fight monsters

saplings sputter flame.

She is brooding mysteries in her head,

her unhatched visions sprout strange

feathers in their egg’

This is artist as nurturer, caretaking and allow ideas to incubate. This artist is not chasing glory or recording exploits of war as the smallness of the men fighting reflects their longevity. 

Another sequence ‘Nature Notes’ records unnatural details, 

‘Joanna, 35

hears Will You Just Fucking Die as she lies dying

at the hand of her boyfriend, the one

she thought might be The One

Anne-Marie, 47

it’s just a normal morning, she’s always calling the police

though who’d have foreseen this, says the DI,

hindsight’s a fantastic thing

                                    the shame

of those who escape, but scathed

like hares chased so hard their blood runs to bubbles,

who can’t survive, won’t make old bones or whose bones are

old before their time’

The unnatural culling of women through domestic violence: Joanne’s death at the hands of the man she thought loved her and Anne-Marie thought of as a nuisance by police who failed to see the danger she was in and so failed to protect her. Sadly, all-too-familiar stories. Here parallels are drawn between animal husbandry and the violence depicted: the farmers trusted to care for animals kill them too.

‘The Shadow Factory’ is a repository of dreams and wishes. The unnaturalness of a man-made thing also casts its shadow over the natural world it was made it. The undesirability of human attitudes towards nature are not a new theme to explore but Deborah Harvey merges the scientific with the wistful, offering a new way of looking at the familiar, a new challenge to show compassion and cooperate when nature will outlive mankind. These are quiet poems that linger long after their brasher, attention-seeking cousins have faded, as shadows grow bigger than the original object.