E.E. Nobbs reviews
by Nichola Deane
Nichola Deane's My Moriarty was co-winner of the 2012 Flarestack Poets Pamphlet Competition. Its 15 poems are an intriguing mix of the philosophical and the personal. They are reflective, I'm guessing, of Deane's well-read, questioning mind. Born in 1973, she has a PhD, and teaches school in Warwickshire. Clive James (on his web site) praises her Romantic-literary and contemporary-music reviews and essays – calling them ‘critical prose at the level of poetry’. Her poems have appeared in Magma and other poetry magazines. This is her first pamphlet.
The opening poem ‘Elizabeth Bishop and the Card Table’ is also my favourite. It’s an ode to Bishop in which, many years previously, the elder poet had appeared to the speaker in a dream: ‘As unfixing as a fixture, she sits across from me at the card table – my first desk/ as a child. To my delight, her fingertips steady its familiar wobble’. The poem itself is delightful – and inspiring. Though the speaker can't remember what the dream-Bishop told her, ‘It's the feeling in the words that stays and stays,/ that's in me this moment, sweet and flickery like the flight/ of a wren, tail-up, here before it got here’.
The voice of these poems is, for the most part, objective, good-humoured and well-reasoned; and always intelligent and observant.
‘A St. Christopher for Iris’ is a startling exception where the speaker rages and grieves about a family injustice that's been carried down through generations; the daughter asks profound questions, some perhaps rhetorical: ‘Whose sadness, mother, is the dark dark water?’
Darkness and shadows are recurring motifs. As are mountains. The speaker approaches the impersonal, indefinable, dangerous mass of a mountain in ‘Towards Suaineabhal’ with ‘averted gaze’; there's the confusing ‘spectacle of a queen turned beggar with no domain’ who is in rags. It’s not clear why. The speaker keeps questioning, and tries to confront the harsh cold facts of human limitations and impermanence. The mountain returns near the end of the pamphlet in the brief and beautiful ‘After Weing Wei’. Here the mountain is still ‘apparently’ empty and impersonal, yet significantly there is now a hint of warmth, comfort and human presence in ‘echoes:/ the trace of voices and sunlight/ piercing the canopy,/...the give of green moss’.
In ‘Fru Ida Hammershøi Discourses on the Subject of the Pianoforte’, Deanne cleverly uses anaphora-type lists to show us the frustrated, lonely wife striking the keys of her pianoforte – over and over, obsessively: each line in the first half of the poem stridently starts with ‘I play…’ In the second half of the poem, the music starts to stop: ‘I would almost rather play than kiss or eat or talk’, but some days ‘I do not play at all/ choosing instead to open the piano in the locked room of my mind’. The poem turns into short lines at the end; the music stops completely; leaving sad and impossibly quiet sounds ‘like the rusting of metal’.
I had to play the detective (with the help of a more literary friend) to discover the reference in the title poem – and that seems apt. Deanne is saying to me, I think, that we're meant to be curious, to explore, to use our minds – to find our meaning, to choose, and to make the effort.
In ‘Wittgenstein's Deckchair’, the last poem of the collection, I was tickled pink to learn about the philosopher's ‘anti-furniture’. Deanne frames her collection with a mountain poem near each end. And it pleases me that she also frames with furniture metaphors at the beginning, as well as the end: in her first poem – Bishop is wonderfully and ‘weirdly part of the fabric, ontological/ as a chair’.
The pamphlet's epigram is John Donne’s ‘Our dust blown away with prophane dust, with every wind’. And behind Deane's poems, I feel strongly that age-old question: How are we to live? In the deckchair poem, the speaker finds meaning in ‘the clownish seriousness of pure endeavour!’ There is wry observation, and hope for us, in the speaker's final vision of ‘the taut fabric/ of our lives stretching across time/ carrying somehow our shape and warmth,/ somehow taking all our weight’.
After carrying Deane’s little blue-covered book with me for the last 4 months, wondering what I would write in this review, and – after each re-reading – discovering new thoughts, new things to appreciate about the poems – My Moriarty has become my good friend.
E.E. Nobbs lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada; and blogs at elly from earth. She was raised along with other animals on a small farm. Poetry is now her practice.