Mandible, by Ingrid Casey, Reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee
 MANDIBLE by ingrid caset

‘Mandible’ by Ingrid Casey

Onslaught Press

ISBN 9781912111565, 66pp, £9

Ingrid Casey writes from personal experience, using her observations to make a wider point about women’s lives, and mixes these poems in with reclaiming figures such as Artemis, Gilgamesh’s sister, Molly Bloom and Anna Livia. ‘Milennials’ sets a parallel between the narrator’s growing up and the path she will guide her daughter on,

No ripple

of truth, so my liver told, pushed down on solar plexus
every drop of gall incurred, curs, hurls, thighs, cars, boys,

men, schoolyards, stockrooms, shady Shelerin road, places
where gangsters falling made the news, but not the attempt 

to rape, to silence me on a post-session Saturday. The tiger’s
roar of that decade screamed louder than goodness. I release

the silence, and write; a lustration. I set my daughter’s
star on the arc of the roots, the map that will guide her around

this earth’s circumference. May she live among trees, overland.’

The rush of ‘hurls, thighs, cars, boys’ reflects the quick succession of experiences as a teenager, the attempt to make a place in the world whilst still trying to understand it and how to relate to it. The teenager quick becomes conscious that men make the news – the gangsters – but not women – the sexual assault is not reported. The poem ends with the desire that her daughter will feel supported, rooted but at the same time will achieve. The sense of mother as the family’s fulcrum continues in ‘Nobody Can be Atlas’ (complete poem),

‘I keep thinking about UA Fanthorpe,
and a suspect edifice held up

in the air
and the beach sky, Wexford. Him
flying a kite, me holding

the babies, sand whipping
us and my fingers

tipping the sky, holding
up the blue sheet of it.’’

How many times do observers see a family on the beach and it’s the mother slapping suncream on the children and organising drinks and snacks while the father is the one getting do the fun things. In the poem, he’s flying the kite, she’s holding the babies. He doesn’t appear to be interacting with the children beyond making them watch him. The mother, on the other hand, is not just caring for the children but holding up the sky. A relationship where one party is doing all the work is doomed. A group of poems about domestic abuse and escaping that situation follow, exploring psychological and emotional coercion and control and the difficulty of understanding a situation you are caught up in. It’s afterwards, with emotional distance, that comprehension comes. 

There are lighter moments too. Memories of visiting a friend as a young woman in ‘Jazz in a Northern City’,

‘There 
are silences,
empathy in the space,
in the difference squared

between floor and ceiling.
On this day there 
was Sun Ra, at perfect pitches, head
phones suspended in a whole constellation.

The child inside could reach a star, listen. It 
was dark,
melodious,
soothing and definitely 
love.’

There’s more than the connection of music. A young son gets a birthday poem, ‘To My Younger Son, On His Fourth Birthday’

‘leaving your siblings. You made a star of me in that
triangle, the consultant at my back, your father’s arms

the masts I clung to, and I a ship in full sail. Up from
the hold you came, all vernix and April fury. But there

has been no betrayal, and I am no ship. We are on land,
another branch; you grow carefree, shuck off rain, snow,

and we are fractal, we are fractal, we are four years fractal.’

‘Fractal’ so appropriate; creating a being that is part you but also very much their own personality and separate being. A four-year-old is still developing and the potential contradiction of a child taking a fairly predictable path to adulthood but the unknown remaining what type of path and how smooth it will become.

Ingrid Casey’s poems are rooted in personal experience and she uses direct, clear vocabulary to engage and communicate. Even the darker poems are threaded with the possibility of recovery and renewal. ‘Mandible’ combines contemporary speech with colloquial rhythms, which gives the poems a musicality.

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