Sue Boyle is the new Featured Writer. Her latest book, Safe Passage, published by Oversteps Books is heart-achingly beautiful, from the shadowy, sparse lines of the cover (a wood engraving by Aldo Patocchi) to all the poems in the collection. She examines both safe and unsafe passages in this book that is filled with compassion and exquisite phrasing. These poems seem to suggest we are all enacting ancient myths and also that we are all as important as gods and goddesses. Language is both lyrical and devastatingly precise. So many poems reach into the very quick of me. Here’s the opening of ‘the portraits at montacute’ –
From the long gallery they look down on us
two friends who had believed each other lost
or the ending of ‘at the hospital’-
We are deep voyagers to them
already on our way
to a distant world.
A nurse brings tea in a fat mug
two shortbread biscuits
wrapped in cellophane
and checks your drip.
She knows. Our friends know.
This book seamlessly sews together personal recollection with poems about others so that you are drawn into the many narratives as if they are your own as we find our way through the tangles of life. I heard Sue read from this book at Ways with Words at Dartington this year when Oversteps introduced their new writers this year (and what a fantastic line-up it was). I noted she had an impressive way of introducing the poems by starting with the poem of the honey-coloured girl at the swimming pool (which is on the school curriculum) and letting the other poems that followed suggest what might have happened to her. I met her also at Teignmouth Poetry Festival: such a lovely person she makes you feel like an old friend!
She has a deft eye for a clever title that really works: you have only to scan the contents list to be intrigued and see how she uses humour.
I found this review of Safe Passage and I do suggest you get this book before stocks run out! I read from it often.
Sue kindly sent me this poem when she heard about my recent health crisis and it really reached the spot where I was at the time:
We talk about the snow leopard
who has come to the end of her species’ time on earth
but still extends herself on the mountain ledge
as if this one cold day in this one cold sun
were the beginning of the world.
She has grown from this rock
and still belongs to it.
She is our model how not to be afraid.
I couldn’t live up to being like this snow leopard but I am out of hospital now after curative surgery (hopefully) and recovering at home which is how, after a longish silence while I was on the equivalent of a mountain ledge, you are receiving this blog today! Safe passage to one and all.