The Rain Diaries (Salt, 2010) might be Rosie Garner’s first collection, but it’s a book that’s steeped in life and poetic graft.
The work of many years is on show here, as is demonstrated by blasts from the past such as Iron magazine on the acknowledgements page. The poetry itself, meanwhile, backs that impression up. Never showy or flash, it earns our attention with honesty. By this I don’t mean anecdote, nor am I using critical shorthand for confessional verse. I’m referring to the way The Rain Diaries deals with emotions and events unflinchingly and thus involves the reader.
In one section of the book, for example, Garner invites us to accompany her on a journey that starts with an idiosyncratic depiction of a child’s conception on a campsite in “How To Begin a Person”:
“Take a night where the canvas rips,
where something stumbles outside in the dark
and plastic chairs somersault in sheeting rain…”
She leads us through children’s growing pains and on to scenes where those initial characters seem to reappear in very different circumstances, as in “Cleave”:
"…And so, at the end of the marriage,
clinging to the axe that found the line of weakness,
the fool of a woman,
this idiot man."
The strength of this journey is that its contradictions, inherent melancholy and even celebrations are juxtaposed and sequenced in such a way that we travel with Garner throughout. Her poetic generosity enables us to share and therefore be enriched by these pieces.
However, The Rain Diaries doesn’t just focus on the personal. Its honesty also extends to its sketches of other characters. These depictions aren’t built on flimsy imagery. Instead, they build up via scrupulous observation and understanding of social workings. A excellent example of this is “Football on Vernon Park”, in which a coach observes his Under Eights. The poem ends as follows:
"…You can see, in their cool appraisal of their game,
their shrugging acceptance of missed goals,
like shadows standing behind them,
the men they’ll grow into.
He watches from the centre,
almost smiles, sees them now."
Garner doesn’t stand aloof from her subjects: this astute poetry works by sharing their perspectives and consequently helping us to do so too.
In summary, The Rain Diaries is a very good book that shows the benefits of working away at a first collection over a lengthy period. Experience, both of life and verse, runs through every page. Rosie Garner’s achievement lies in gifting it to her readers.