Kate Garrett, losing interest in the sound of petrichor, The Black Light Engine Room Press, 2018. £5.
We have been spinning through grey
heat and hearsay. We need to dance.
We need to unravel the knots
that brought us here: me – a little lost,
red riding hood without a forest.
His arms and legs all backwards and bends;
he’s humpty dumpty broken, glued
together by so many lips, no longer the same.
In the dark my ghosting fingertips
bump over the cracks of his almost smile;
his hands find my back without a bread
crumb trail. The story begins.
Kate Garrett, from losing interest in the sound of petrichor (The Black Light Engine Room)
I’m going to start this review of Kate Garrett’s absorbing losing interest in the sound of petrichor not from the first poem but with one from the mid-point, ‘Saturnine’. I’ve chosen this (and to quote it in whole) because it illustrates not only many of the pamphlet’s themes but also style and approach.
Relationships, of various kinds, feature strongly: whole, cracked, mended and some not even begun. Fairy tale and folklore play an overt part in many poems (as in ‘Saturnine’) but also texture the background in others. In each case, this is more than re-telling, as the poems meld the traditional characters or scenarios with everyday modern life or the more historical reality, for example, of witchcraft.
But there are other thematic strands weaving through the pamphlet in different ways. Beautiful lines of sensual striking imagery evoke haunting memories, regret of a missing rather than nostalgic kind, belonging, connections, near-connections, and moments, people or lightning bugs that are not-quite caught.
“You never catch them in jars
but sometimes they land
on your hand
or your hair
and you smile.”
(‘A violet horizon’)
The power in these poems is not just hinting at the hidden though, it’s the fact that they also manage to “flush the elusive | out into the light” (‘A wise woman once said ‘love is a battlefield’’) in a memorable way. Garrett beautifully balances the voiced and the carefully crafted unspoken with all its enigmatic and inferring qualities.
Another power is in the strength given to female characters. The narrator taken as a witch or “dark faery” in ‘To know, to will, to dare, and to keep silent’ may have to endure that:
“…a man searched me for devil marks,
tried to squeeze admissions from my throat,
and threw my words on a fire…”
But this isn’t how her subjugation will finish:
“I didn’t say that even as we spoke, nettle
roots pushed down through cryptic notes
I’d planted in the garden, and I’d soon be free.”
I mentioned ‘Saturnine’ earlier in terms of wider pamphlet style; it’s this poem’s ghosting traces and fairytale characteristics that made me do so. I might also mention magic. Narrative in hints, an almost ghostlike lightness of touch, twists of language and imagery, and multi-sensory vivid sensual details are all brought together in various measures in these poems to create an evocative, beguiling and spellbinding mix.
Now’s probably the right point to mention form too. I’ve not commented on this earlier because the frameworks of these poems support in a subtle, reinforcing manner. The lines take on a variety of shapes, to suit the contents. Where there might at first seem to be regular stanza-lengths, these are often placed into gentle tension by cross-stanza enjambments, part-phrase line breaks or slight changes in stanza length. There are prose poems, indenting and slashes as well as more standard punctuation. I won’t examine each one in detail here, simply note that the overall effect is a sense of regularity that’s not-quite regular: surface appearances have hidden forces shifting underneath, as in the poems’ themes and narratives.
Although I’m reviewing the writing here, the beautiful artwork by Jane Burn at the start of the pamphlet sets the atmosphere perfectly for the poetry within, including the title poem with its lines:
“…thunder has a smell of its own:
heavy and green, pregnant with wildflowers.”
This poem is a good one for me to close on as it sets side by side both the vibrancy of life and the dark edges that often come with it in this pamphlet. The “breathing | in too much summer” here also foreshadows the pamphlet’s final poem where “summer is kissed by impermanence” yet still: “Tilt your face to the sky, and breathe.” And yes, this last line too brings me full circle back to the opening poem’s title: ‘A violet horizon’.
I both enjoyed and admired the poems in losing interest in the sound of petrichor. It’s a pamphlet to breathe in, feel and then re-read to savour everything again.
You can buy losing interest in the sound of petrichor by contacting The Black Light Engine Room Press editor p.a. morbid here.
S.A. Leavesley is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer, who fits life around words and words around life. An avid reader and editor, she runs V. Press poetry and flash fiction imprint. Latest poetry books: How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press, 2018) and plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press, 2015). Novellas: Kaleidoscope and Always Another Twist (Mantle Lane Press, 2017/2018).