Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Overlapping margins, Lydia Fulleylove's Estuary

Estuary (Two Ravens Press, 2014) is Lydia Fulleylove's first full collection. It displays many of the virtues of Notes on Land and Sea, her 2011 HappenStance Press pamphlet, but the longer format provides her with more room to build and develop connections and tensions, not just within poems but between pieces and even genres.

This last point is especially significant in the case of Estuary, as the book intermingles verse with diary extracts and prose monologues, while also featuring artwork by Colin Riches. The aim is not simply to evoke a place. Instead, a dialogue is established between self and place, together with a gradually evolving attempt to map inner as well as outer landscapes.

In this context, a consideration of Fulleylove's perspective is pivotal. Points of comparison and contrast might be found in Hilary Menos' collection, Red Devon. Both poets have much to say about modern farming methods and their effects on traditional life and nature. However, Menos writes from within, as a farmer in Devon. Fulleylove, meanwhile, is an outsider, always keenly aware that she only has one year to capture the Yar estuary on the Isle of Wight. As a poet in residence there, as a guest, she's invited on to the land and along to events, and many such margins are at play throughout this collection.

The estuary is on the border between land and sea, each impinging on the other. For instance, Fulleylove's work in a prison and her father's illness inform her visits to the estuary, while this illness and work are then informed in turn by the estuary. Different worlds overlap. As a consequence, the poet's use of diary extracts alongside poems is very successful: the diary contributes to the verse and vice versa.

For example, here's a snippet from a diary extract:

"Sun floods through wintry trees and then a scud of rain. Yesterday my sister collected my father who has been staying with us and today he's an emergency admission to the hospital's psychiatric wing. I walk on steadily, Causeway Cottage ahead. What would it be like to live there by a tidal river? You could watch the continual uncovering. You would begin to know the river by heart."

The above prose is then followed by a poem titled "The call of the water rail":

"What you do when he's been admitted
is go to work as usual, the group waiting for you
in the café, coffees already frothing, words buzzing.

What you do is explain the plan of action,
advise warm coats, gloves, woolly caps,
lead them out towards the marsh

where if you sit still for long enough
you may hear the call of the water rail,
though this shy bird is seldon seem..."

Lydia Fulleylove's Estuary is not yet another collection of nature poems that revolve around the sea. It's a profound meditation on the enriching internal and external tussles that take place when we spend time both in such landscapes and in contemporary society. This book invites us to reflect on how we are leading our lives. It really is poetry for our times.

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