Lydia Macpherson's Love Me Do (Salt Publishing, 2014) might be a first collection - in fact, it won the Crashaw Prize - but it's unusual for a début in that it presents a consolidated voice, the fruit of decades rather than a couple of years.
Macpherson's verse strikes authentic and personal notes, but that
doesn't mean it's confessional. Instead, she delves into people, turning them into believable characters and conjuring a poem around them. Perhaps Macpherson's skill is best explained via her use of the first person singular. She displays a crucial awareness of the slippery nature of "I", playing with lyrical expectations.
One such example is the poem Twelve Bore, an excellently compressed poetic tale in which the narrator heads for suicide via their ex-lover's shotgun. The ending is satisfyingly unexpected because the reader has been lulled into supposing the "I" is Macpherson herself.
The poet's control of narrative is a key feature of this collection. A personal favourite is Ossuary, in which the story unfolds via the homing in on mundane details, thus implicitly highlighting their emotional ramifications. All this is combined with revelatory turns of phrase, as in the extract below:
"...Then, to test it on his thumb pad,
drawing the finest wire of blood... "
Of course, it's impossible to discuss this book without mentioning the melancholy of such a beautifully presented artifact being one of Salt's final individual poetry collections. As in the past, production values are still very high in spite of a couple of typos (e.g. "everyday" for "every day") and a few aesthetic tweaks (I'm not a fan of poem titles in italics!).
However, I refuse to end the review on such an ambivalent note. Macpherson's work doesn't deserve such doubts. Love Me Do is rich in narratives, scenes and characters that grip the reader. They interweave to create a coherent poetic transfiguring of life. I very much hope this collection finds wider recognition.
There's a myth I've grown up with that the black notes are harder. "They're not," says my son, categorically, this evening. He realises that I am a pupil ...