I thoroughly enjoyed Allison McVety's first full collection, The Night Trotsky Came to Stay, when it was published in 2007, so I was delighted to find she's just brought out a second book, Miming Happiness (Smith/Doorstep Books, 2010).
What's more, it didn't disappoint once I got hold of a copy. There's the same skilled management of a plethora of detail when dealing with histories, while family and relationships are also delicately portrayed. However, in Miming Happiness, McVety develops and deepens these interests, showing ever-greater technical and thematic assurance.
Starting with her treatment of histories through the observation of objects, scenes and anecdotes, it's clear that McVety has an excellent eye and ability to carry that through to the page, as in Backyards...
"The houses lean in on each other, thin
as undertakers, shouldering their slates...
...No one complains. In hallways debt rises
up the skirting boards and down the ginnel
the bogus queue to take their turn
at peeling Mrs Taylor from her pension."
The rendering of imagery is excellent, although I do feel this piece also highlights some inherent difficulties that I encounter at times as a reader of McVety: the poem is often generalised, as can be seen by the repeated plurals, while characters such as Mrs Taylor appear and disappear in something of a list. I don't feel involved. I admire Backyards, but it doesn't strike at my heart.
Unlike some of the more intimate poems in Miming Happiness. They're simply outstanding, as in Making a Show, which begins as follows...
"My mother wore a nightdress under her shroud
in the way I had once worn a vest
to school under a chrisom of blouse..."
This ability to draw out the proximity and distance between generations of a family is characteristic of Allison McVety at her best, and is reminiscent in this sense of the superb The Two Times I saw Your Penis from The Night Trotsky Came To Stay.
I'd like to finish this review with a quote from my favourite poem in Miming Happiness, titled In The Year of Splitting Up...
honed its leading edge, our bones stung
with the effort of not touching...
This piece uses beautiful language to move the reader. It's an example of why I very much recommend Allison McVety's new book. You'll find a heady mix of imagery and emotion to warm you through this bitter winter.