Review: way out by Helen Anderson

Review: Anderson, Helen, way out, The Black Light Engine Room, 2017. £7 including P&P.

It seems a little daft, on paper, to be comparing any book of poetry not written by Charles Bukowski to Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho but, in the end, way out shares its sentiment with the novel’s haunting final line “this is not an exit.” As the gorgeous illustration by Jane Burn at the start of this pamphlet suggests, way out is an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque pursuit of escape from the painful banality of every day existence in the face of grief. Beginning with coffee shops and A roads, Anderson’s poetry swerves from the mundane to the magical before realising that even this alternate route leads only back to normalcy.

 

It was

Her New Bedroom.

A fortnight on,

The Dying Room.

 

My daughter

And the borrowed bed

-returned.

 

-Shifting the Furniture

 

The loss of a child is not something someone gets over, ever and Anderson has a profound understanding of the reality of this, way out being dedicated, in part to her deceased daughter Georgina. The pamphlet swells with the thought that something of such magnitude should be reality bending, should shake the heaven and the earth, but in the end isn’t and doesn’t, even if it fundamentally alters you. `Esher angles – optical illusory, impossible pipelines,’ ‘alien bays,’ and `hypermobile doppleganger[s]’ crop up, but do not stay.

 

Dazzling or dark, depending on

your angle, she is a miniaturised,

right-way-up mirage in a shiny

upside-down spoon.

 

-Distorted Vision

 

way out goes through several variations of surreal, from the hallucinogenic as in poems like `Distorted Vision’ to the magical realist in pieces such as `Dream Gardner’ and `CN’.

 

Layers of panes hold me. Crazed,

the gull winks her warning:

you are attracting attention.

Last week,

In Chicago,

a glass floor just like this

showed signs of cracks.

 

-CN

 

Anderson’s loss is beyond her control, affected on her by the environment and infinitely bigger than her. Inside the pamphlet, things try to escape by road, by sea, by sky and even across space, but are not in control of their direction. They are ‘oarless,’ and `stranded’, have `strayed’ and `swerved’ and `drifted’ and the places they have ended up are not environments in which they are supposed to be: little girls on the open sea, beached jellyfish, vehicles in the wrong lane. It is difficult to tell whether Anderson is talking about herself or her daughter when she expresses the desire to return things to their intended space. Both, as is usually the case with poets.

 

I’d like to take them home, like

mistreated puppies, in buckets

of sparkling water

 

– Plague of Jellyfish

 

Alfa Germania, Trans Iberia,

Baltic Star:

I guide them home.

 

– Tees Tide

 

Whilst Anderson is necessarily unsuccessful, her pamphlet is not. If one or two poems are a little overly mundane and lacking the spark of the ineffable that lights the others, they are quickly forgotten in what is otherwise a dazzling pamphlet. There are many, many poetry books revolving around mourning, even mourning children, but none that have moved me as much as this one. Anderson has achieved the almost impossible in relaying some tiny fragment of what must be her immense grief to her readers. way out will haunt you.

 

Amy Kinsman

 


 

You can buy way out by contacting The Black Light Engine Room Press editor p.a. morbid here.

Amy Kinsman (they/them) is a genderfluid poet and playwright from Manchester, England. As well as managing Riggwelter, Amy is associate editor with Three Drops From A Cauldron and runs Gorilla Poetry open mic in Sheffield. They have also been a student editor of Route 57. Their work has previously appeared in many print anthologies and web journals. Their debut pamphlet & was joint winner of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2017.

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