Jessica Mookherjee, joy ride, The Black Light Engine Room 2017. £7 including P&P.
Right from the start, the title alone of Jessica Mookherjee’s joy ride has me excited – temptation, exhilaration, rebellion, breaking the rules… All these aspects are also covered by the poetry in the pamphlet, with the striking opening artwork by Jane Burn preparing me too for the darker elements of fear and danger that inevitably come with this.
Birds, nature, flight, loneliness, love and loss, belonging and place in the world feature across the pamphlet, as well as relationships of various kinds.
There is joy in word and idea play, such as the pamphlet’s opening line: ‘I’m struck blue, bottle-green wings unfolding’ (‘The Father’). It’s there in the sound of close-placed rhymes, as well as the imagery and deft line breaks, of stanzas like: ‘Now outside, I watch the river bend like a girl, | unfurl in the curl of her dance as she curses rain’ (‘The Father’).
But joy and beauty are also set directly alongside sharper edges, such as this poem’s final stanza:
‘I think she pulls wings from blue-bottles,
punches them into a sky filled with fathers and flies away.’
Across the pamphlet, there are short-lined, spare poems like ‘The Adopted’ and page-width-lined poems such as ‘Anniversary’, where repetition is also used for haunting accumulative effect:
‘The night we got together you asked me if I had been in love before
and I told you it didn’t matter, because I’d forgotten.
The night sky mocked me, told me I was lying.
The night we got together – as I fell asleep next to your body
I heard you crying. The night sky mocked me…’
It is possible, but not necessary, to make links between some of the poems. In ‘The Hook’:
‘… You’re searching for the Holy Grail he said
I knew what it was like to live underwater and feel ungrateful.’
The spoken phrase takes me back to similar words in ‘My Love’, allowing me to read further layers into both poems.
Flight is a motif through the pamphlet. From the initial poem ‘The Father’ quoted above, through ‘my dream of flying’ (‘Anniversary’) to ‘The Angel’ who:
‘…won’t show his broken wings, his wounds like panic
and hell-flight are gripped tight over broken
bodies at night…
In ‘Ambition’, flight takes on a different element as the first-person narrator talks of building a swimming pool on the moon and filling it full of rocket fuel to swim in while breathing fire:
‘But, I’m nowhere near the orbit, light years from midnight
stars. With no spacecraft or screwdrivers, only pockets
full of flat batteries, a crooked sixpence someone flung at me,
an absinthe spoon and sugar cubes. I can’t reach myself
with these implements, only pull out my guts and abandon
For all the sharp and darker edges in this pamphlet, I finished reading with an overall sense of resilience akin to the joy suggested by the title. The closing poem ‘Time Minus’ recalls ‘Ambition’ in evoking space, gravity, rocket fuel and thrusters. But it ends with hope, in the simple connection of two humans through touch and speech:
‘…He holds her hand
it’s time to leave the past behind, and trust
in your own velocity, Love just does the work he says.’
There is, of course, a lot that I’ve left out in this fast-forward through flight to the final poem.
Overall, as well as everyday situations and events such as two old friends/acquaintances recalling the past in ‘Reunion’, the pamphlet also draws on music, folktale and myth, including Cupid, the Angel, Jill and Jack and Taliesin. Strong imagery, thought and emotion often merge or cross between apparent reality and more artistic or imaginary realms. For me, many of the poems have an almost dreamlike quality in this imagery and flow, leaving joyful space for readers to create their own interpretations.
The combination of all these factors makes for a highly re-readable pamphlet, and also, perhaps, actively invites the reader to build their own sense of belonging and connection.
I’m going to finish this review by quoting from ‘The Adopted’:
“I can’t follow branches.
With no purchase, a seed
on rock. Clinging
my vice grip of taproot, sending
shoots in hunger to belong.
Grasping a rock-face,
embraced by the wind,
adopted by sky and found
in the language of trees.”
I read the poem as about adoption literally and metaphorically. Trying to find a sense of belonging and individual place in the world and nature, life and love is a thread that I felt through much of joy ride. This may be about what we choose to adopt or open up to ourselves rather than others adopting or rescuing us. But I think this is what the pamphlet offers readers – purchase, taproots and a wonderful joyride through language, longing and belonging.
You can buy joy ride 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).