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Friday, 7 August 2009

Guest Review: Naomi On Gittins

Katrina Naomi reviews
I'll Dress One Night as You
by Chrissie Gittins

This collection opens with a bravura poem "Leaving Brancaster Staithe". I was knocked out by this extended metaphor using a flock of geese to foretell a death. You really need to read the poem in full, each stanza builds and reinforces what has come before, and I can't do it justice with an extracted line or two. However, the second stanza will at least give a flavour of the quality of Gittins' writing here:

Spread like iron filings
over a starched white tablecloth
they settled on the marsh,
a single snow goose the eye of their storm.

"Leaving Brancaster Staithe" is the first in a sequence of poems which gives the book its title. While the sequence is strong, for my money, none of the others in the sequence are as powerful as the opening poem. However, Gittins is a fine poet, nearly always managing at least one (and often several) cracking line(s) in every poem.

Take "The Second Drive to Dundonnell", for example, one of many nature- or landscape-based poems, with these wonderful lines: "the cog-sharp ridge jabbed at soft-blue light. / [...] sheep begin to think the road their own."

And in "Landscape and Portrait", Gittins opens with: "There's rain enough to re-surface the sea"; poetry which gets inside the imagination and reinvents it. This is a wide-ranging collection, with many historical figures and settings being invoked. Several of these reminded me of Jane Yeh's work from her debut with Carcanet, Marabou, although for this reviewer, Gittins' historical poetry lacks the emotional punch of Yeh's work.

Gittins' nature or landscape-inspired poems scored far higher with me, as did those of a more personal nature; those with less of the research about them. Gittins has a keen eye and her verbs and imagery are rarely dull. For example, I enjoyed: "her painted toenails/glowed like closed anenomes" from "Pyjama Walk", and from "Alcyone": "how the seams of the ship/tore easily, like new bread".

This is Gittins' second collection for adults (her first Armature was published by Arc in 2003), she has also published two collections for children. She is originally from Lancashire and lives in south London. Both geographical influences can be seen in this collection. While there is much to enjoy in this second collection, especially the imagery, I found myself wanting more poetry that gave of itself emotionally, that engaged with me as powerfully as the opening poem.

Katrina Naomi's first full collection The Girl with the Cactus Handshake (Templar Poetry) will be published in the autumn. She is shortly taking up a residency with the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire.
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