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A Somersault of Doves by Valerie Bridge

A Somersault of Doves by Valerie Bridge

George Mann Publications 2013

There is something fundamentally serious about these poems and I could feel immediately what prompted Mandy Pannett to write, for the back cover, that she was ‘stunned by this collection, overwhelmed by the translucent frost of it and the interconnection of dark and light, death and birth, of brutal facts and an evocative, mystical vision.’

On the lighter side of childhood’s reconstruction we can read ‘Vertigo: or the Art of Flying’ with its evocative echoes of John Crowe Ransom’s ‘Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter’. The American poet’s famously anthologised piece opens with the lines ‘There was such speed in her little body, / And such lightness in her footfall, / It is no wonder her brown study / Astonishes us all.’ Valerie Bridge’s flying childhood presents us with warnings, caution and exhilaration:

‘I’d grown out of my liberty bodice. Mother said,
‘over my dead body,’ when I threatened to give up vests.
‘Don’t climb trees’ she’d already shouted. Then,
‘Don’t go near the edge. Don’t cry.’ I hesitated,

climbed the gap-toothed staircase fast as fast,
with boys from the square, got down with my eyes shut,
ran to the Peter Pan tree, swung over the top at the swings,
landed smack on my head, fainted. Lied.’

The accumulation of whole sentences and individual clauses in the first stanza here opens out into the fluidity of stanza two where the accumulation of childhood associations breaks loose from restriction: ‘fast as fast’, ‘boys from the square’, ‘ran’, Peter Pan’, ‘swung’ to ‘swings’ and ‘smack’ to ‘Lied’.

In contrast, ‘Deben Beach: His Blonde Child 1943’ has a solemnity and poignant yearning that reminds me of both Radnóti and Mandelstam:

‘The escape is a hillside of poppies
drifting onto the beach at Deben
where through the barb of wire,
skull and cross bones,
he sees this fat lorry tyre,
the tread as good and deep
as furrows in fresh-tilled earth.
The sun casts rich shadows
and as his friend lights his pipe,
the dare is exchanged.’

There is an individual voice here, a personal relighting of memory and narrative, stories told to children who listen with thumb to mouth as their own pasts rise before them.

In the introduction to Six Latvian Poets (published by Arc in 2011) the editor, Ieva Lešinska, wrote

‘An overt engagement with history or social issues is almost totally absent from their work—perhaps because of an instinctive fear that the weight of history may turn out to be too much to bear and may squash their own creativity, perhaps because of a desire to place themselves in the broader context of world literature or simply because of a youthful opposition to their predecessors.’

This sense of a personal voice which is earned through experience shines through Valerie Bridge’s collection. It is moving and it is a delight. Read it!

Ian Brinton 4th November 2014

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