Rivers Wanted by Rachel Piercey

-Reviewed by Jennifer Wong


It is hard not to fall in love with Rachel Piercey’s latest pamphlet, Rivers Wanted, with its quizzical, imaginative world at once familiar and strange; its sensitive, honest and playful language. The book begins with an intriguing confessional voice in ‘Hare’: ‘Hare, in my mind, often frightens.’ Tracing the animal’s intuitiveness in its predating and mating habits, one is left with the startling image of a sky thronged with baby hares learning to take their first leaps.

‘Tea with Eva’, in memory of Eva Ibbotson who wrote many incredulous children’s stories including Which Witch?, The Secret of Platform 13 and Journey to the River Sea, articulates the magic of make-believe, and the power of imagination and dreams that overrides even death:

And though your host has quietly left the room,
and these are all the plates now
and all the brimming cups,

you know it’s the easiest thing
when you need it,
to come to tea.

In Piercey’s poems, imagination and reality are close neighbours, and sometimes it seems as if the divide between them no longer exists. Ibbotson’s tales have made it possible to enter and re-enter the author’s imaginative space. The metaphor of a tea is aptly put to show the close, one-to-one friendship between a writer and her reader.

The pamphlet moves easily along a spectrum of themes, from wildlife, urban landscapes, etiquette, birth and death, to human bondage. In ‘Truth or Dare’, the poet captures the risks one takes as a child or teenager (‘I’ll swallow whatever you do’), and in these initial tests of friendship or love one weighs and discovers the value of trust.

‘Magpie’ is a mesmerizing poem that indicates the poet’s willingness to take risk with language and voice. The poem starts with a mystery: ‘It didn’t glitter, but I took it.’ Soon it moves into a darker realm as we suspect the identity and motive of the malicious speaker: ‘For all your glut of knowledge/ you go with the twist in your gut.’ Inspired by Adam Bridgland’s artpiece, You Stole My Heart, the poem explores folklores on magpies; the inauspicious bird’s association with dreams and trance, and the haunting rhyme ‘seven for a secret never to be told’. The poem leaves the reader pondering about the unfathomable laws and superstitions in both animal and human worlds.

‘On Rosebery Avenue’, where the pamphlet’s title comes from, leads us into the magical in everyday rituals. In the rain, the roads are no longer ordinary or predictable. Instead, the London taxis that navigate the season ‘want rivers’, ‘falling/ along the tarred bur/ out of knowledge’, while their front lights create the illusion of ‘shiny’ passengers.

Rivers Wanted shows Piercey’s refreshing originality, particularly her ability to forge a language of her own. A wonderful work of wit, imagination and skill from such a young poet, the pamphlet is a real gem. I am looking forward to her next book.