Sunday, 11 September 2016

Chronicles of loss, Abegail Morley's The Skin Diary

Imagine and imaginary are key words in The Skin Diary (Nine Arches Press, 2016), Abegail Morley’s new collection, and provide a hint to her poetics. However, far from being a flight of fancy, this book is rooted in human experience, as the imaginary turns real and the real imaginary.

Morley writes of an imaginary sister, an imaginary friend, an imaginary photo, all in an attempt to express what cannot be expressed and understand what cannot be understood. Here’s an example of her method from “Childhood”:

“…Her life is stored in a house of ruins
she’s rebuilding brick by brick. If you visit tomorrow
she’ll feed you fairy cakes on white china plates,
pour tea from an imagined pot.”

Imagination is here seen as a technique for dealing with everyday experience, while its inherent risks and dangers are never far away, as in “The Blame”:

“…Tonight I hear you stumble up steps,
four years after. Short shadows on brickwork thicken –
if I was prone to fancy, I would imagine you here.”

As both these pieces indicate, loss and how we wrestle with loss are pivotal themes that resonate throughout this collection, reaching their culmination in its closing poems. The collection reaches its crescendo when Morley homes in on a specific narrative that raises the tension even higher than on previous pages. One of her fundamental poems is “Package”:

“…I didn’t know something so small could change

My day, so opened the gift without ceremony, didn’t expect
his dried-out soused diary to unhug itself from the envelope.
No letter from the coroner, just river-rippled A5 pages.”

Of course, these lines turn on Morley’s use of “unhug”, implicitly leading us towards the speaker’s solitude and afore-mentioned loss.

The Skin Diary moves the reader on every page, but its final poems will cling to the mind forever. They are a chronicle of survival amid excruciating mental and emotional pain. Never depressing but always life-affirming, Abegail Morley’s thematic courage works in tandem with her poetic craft to bring us a memorable collection.  Her diary flows into ours and we emerge enriched.


  1. A tremendous review, Matthew. It's clear you've given each poem a great deal of thought and time ... and I agree, it's a wonderful collection! Margaret Beston

    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment. It's certainly an excellent book!