– Reviewed by Emma Lee –
Blinking in the Light is a pamphlet of twenty-one poems on a series of cumulative tragedies, tempered with the joy of becoming a mother. The poems reach out with clarity and without self-pity, not to join a sorrow-fest but to share resilience and show how human spirit can endure. It’s clearly not going well when the speaker tells her boyfriend that her pregnancy test is positive, in “A blue cross says Yes to me”
That’s a bit of a pisser, he says,
when I tell him. I get out of the car
and, without looking back, head
up the road towards my flat,
where black flowers of mould
bloom across the bathroom walls.
Despite this far from perfect start, her daughter is healthy. The father’s self-absorption and failure of empathy is the addict’s self-obsession, an inability to see others as anything but either tools or barriers to his next fix. So it’s little surprise when the narrator gets “The phone call”, which ends:
I want to keep on walking
until I fall off the edge of the world,
scratch my face, rip out my eyes.
Daddy’s in heaven, we tell
my girl, just two years old,
gold curls framing her face,
blue eyes like his, not old enough
to understand why Daddy’s in the sky.
It’s left to the reader to decide their response to this; the spare language leaves no space for sentimentality. Adapting to absence leaves the daughter vulnerable to future tragedy, when she discovers her boyfriend’s body in “The week she turned nineteen”:
I’d like to think, he didn’t really
blame her. The next morning,
when she got there, fear slapped
like the imprint of a hand across her face,
the lights were on, his pale-blue car
sat in the drive, he dangled upstairs
with his broken neck and broken dreams
and his dog would not stop barking.
Despite her mother’s concern, I suspect the daughter will live on. In hindsight, the suicide was planned before the relationship started; this is important because those left behind after a suicide question who is to blame and whether they could have done anything differently. The details here ring true, “fear slapped… across her face”, the “pale-blue car”, its weakened colour, and the dog’s inability to stop barking.
The poems don’t progress linearly but shift back and forth as a recent bereavement triggers memories of earlier losses, both of a relationship and of a partner and father; but someone who can shape black mould into flowers is someone who can see hope in the blackest tunnel. The final poem, “The worst of years has gone,” acts as an evaluation, and ends:
Two decades on,
it’s safe now. I pull it out
and look at it. I can release
it, like a bird that’s been kept
for years in a covered cage.
It flies into the sky,
blinking in the light.”
At twenty-one poems, the pamphlet feels the right length. It’s long enough to get to know the characters involved and finishes before it feels relentless. Grief can be a powerful trigger for poetry, but it takes emotional distance before the resulting poems can be shaped into poems that work for an audience rather than just being private pieces for the writer. Louisa Adjoa Parker has given herself that distance and “Blinking in the Light” offers readers the space to appreciate and share.