The Wound Register by Esther Morgan
9781780374109 -PP 80
Like the many exteriors described by Esther Morgan in her fourth collection of poetry, The Wound Registry, her poems are quaint, quiet, and often quite pretty but rarely are they stimulating or unique. Morgan enjoys splicing the quotidian observations so many poets before her have indulged in ad nauseum, with themes of motherhood and war, specifically WWI. The title of the collection is a reference to the official record that detailed the casualties of the Norfolk Regiment. Morgan has a direct connection to this via her great-grandfather who (according to the blurb on Amazon) died at the Battle of the Somme.
Late in the book is a poem titled “Somme,” its rhythm is a cheery contradiction to the grim content, reminding one of a bouncing bugle fanfare amongst carnage. I imagine it is this attention to detail that makes Morgan deserving of her glowing resume: MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, recipient of the Eric Gregory Award in 1998, winner of the Aldeburgh Fist Collection, and short listed for both the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Morgan is an accomplished writer and while that certainly comes through in The Wound Registry,there’s also a preoccupation with familiar forms that left me rather disappointed. Too many of these poems are written in a tone and manner that says little other than, this is poetry. Serious, sober, solemn, prayer-like, and a bit boring.
But there are two poems where Morgan adventurously leaps out of her comfort zone: “A True and Perfect Inventory” and “Stories.” I don’t think it’s by coincidence that these two poems sit side-by-side one another in the collection. “A True and Perfect Inventory” is a list, “Of all the goods and Chattles/of Henry Monton lately deceased/[. . .] 1729”. There’s something so charmingly morbid yet sincere about this simple little poem. The list concludes with the line, “Lumber and things forgot.” What a terrifically sad little line! It’s somber but there’s an underlining playfulness to it; as if a lazy child were in charge of the inventory and simply listed the remaining items as “things forgot.”
What really sets this poem apart from the others in this collection is that it doesn’t attempt to make anything pretty or profound. Instead, it’s radically sparse, forcing the reader to take one’s exit from this world for what it is, a simple everyday occurrence. As mundane and commonplace as, “Two smale puter dishes/and six old plates.”
The adjacent poem, “Stories” does away with Morgan’s affinity for short, broken-up lines and instead reads more like a prose poem. The rhythm in “Stories” is magnificent and left me feeling cheated because I wish more of The Wound Registry read like this. The piece functions as a sort of slice-of-life, perhaps snippets of stories overheard in a pub or on a bustling sidewalk that she took and crammed together into one charming little bundle. Again, this poem succeeds because it’s not attempting to sound profound or beautiful. There’s something much more genuine in a passage such as, “[. . .] Trev’s dog/turning up days later on the GPO steps, literally knackered;/inedible sponge cakes that wouldn’t even bloody burn;” than say, this passage from “Labours”, “So the autumn passes at the same unhurried pace/of a man who knows there’s a long way to go.” The latter passage sounds like it’s trying to be poetry, while the former simply is poetry.
Overall, I actually believe a lot of people would enjoy this book. The poems are often quiet meditations on the little things in life and they serve this function well. I could actually see someone relaxing with this book by a fire or a lake, the way people do in coffee commercials. Morgan writes with purpose and clarity. It’s obvious that she is seasoned and practiced but still, I left this slim volume wanting something bolder, something new, something I’ve never read before. But that’s a tall order and so I don’t blame Morgan for failing to fill it. For those who like relaxing reads and perhaps for any new mothers (though I doubt you have any spare time for reading!), it’s highly recommended.