A certain adjective has to be addressed from the outset when getting to grips with Rosie Miles’ first pamphlet, titled Cuts (HappenStance Press, 2015), and that’s “quirky”.
It features on the back cover blurb, and does so for a good reason. In the context of a blurb, there’s a need to give a flavour of the book in about fifty words, and “quirky” is thus an excellent point of departure for a reader of Miles’ poetry.
However, for a reviewer “quirky” is one of those dangerous words that lends itself to critical shorthand and stereotypical assumptions. It’s such a generic term that its use requires clarification of the specifics. In the case of Rosie Miles’ verse, it refers to her idiosyncratic playing-off of counterpoints, as in the following extract from the pamphlet’s title poem:
“…In time the money saved from the entire population
undertaking major procedures on each other in the kitchen
(with only a negligible rise in mortality rates)
will be used to commission a state-of-the-art laser can opener
connected to a computer the size of just one tin of baked beans
which nonetheless will have parts with such precision
your lover will be able to put you to sleep
and open up the serrated edges of your heart.”
Miles is drawing on tensions between the objective and the subjective, the distant and the intimate, the exterior and the interior, sarcasm and sincerity. Her so-called quirkiness lies in her ability to surprise us by making unusual connections that then seem inevitable, offering up a tough but tender vision of life.
Another instance of the same technique can be found in “Cluedo”:
“...Was it Father Tomkins, in the chapel
with the poisoned communion cup?
Head Gardener Judd, in the shed
with the mud-spattered hoe?
Or even his good wife Mary
with the fish knife, in the kitchen?
It was me. In the bedroom.
With my heart of gilt and an iron rose."
Nevertheless, Miles doesn’t just rely on this one device. She’s also excellent in shorter pieces, where she goes straight for the emotional guts of the poem, such as in “Strathallan Dew”. Perhaps my own favourite is “The door has been open for some time”:
“but I would rather stay here
with my candle and my husk of bread
keeping watch over the setting silt,
counting how many layers of stone
are needed to make a wall.
Who knows what the light is like out there
or whether they have bakers.”
Yet again, this poem finds Miles making glorious connections that set off thoughts and emotions.
Cuts at first might seem a disparate collection. In fact, it’s held together by a hard-earned understanding and harnessing by the poet of her own imagination. Rosie Miles' generosity delivers those insights to the reader, enriching us as it does so.