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The M Pages by Colette Bryce (Picador Poetry)

The M Pages by Colette Bryce (Picador Poetry)

These poems appear almost formal, but absolutely sing in massed choir from the pages of this collection in which Colette Bryce is absorbed in witness to the passing of life – death and changes arrived by its finality. She feels, looks, listens and imagines.

It is through the imagination evoked in setting out her words that carries these poems, the lines work in unison, sometimes soothing, ‘the polished lozenge of a hearse’; sometimes, bluntly factual, ‘Death. Nobody wants / our accumulated stuff’; sometimes gracefully handling polite insincerity, ‘Smokers in the parking lot, / ashes to ashes /        ‘yes we must / in happier…’Some awkward hugs’. Colette Bryce is an articulate and trustworthy observer.                        

‘Death of an Actress’ is a poem of neatly stitched euphemisms celebrating vernacular’s informal rendering of demise:

                        Has gasped her last, pegged out, gone west.

                        Mislaid the future like a set of specs

                        or a loop of keys. Has booted the bucket,

                        dimmed her light to the glownub of a wick

                        and snuffed it, passed on to the kingdom of perpetual

                        night, hooked up with darkness as a bride.

                                                                                                (‘Death of an Actress)

Nimble writing. She makes it sound so right; makes it look so easy. Colette Bryce’s natural aptitude for navigation is all over this book.  She keeps each poem on course.

That capability is also felt in that she, herself, is in constant transit irrespective of the arresting manifestations in the face of fate. Her travels surface in poems such as ‘Cuba, A Short Commute’ and are alluded to elsewhere: a trip by car to the hill fort Grianan of Aileach near Derry, in visits to family and Ireland. From that poem, ‘Car Hire’, deft wording, care and humour capture the poet’s poorly mother being taken for a drive: 

                        as we ease you from the wheelchair, bend

                        your hinges into the hatchback (memory foam

                        on the seat for your sore, score brittle bones),

                        fasten the belt across you with a click.

                        Not forgetting your tank, ‘Jacques Cousteau’:

                                                                                                (‘Car Hire’)

Such an instance can’t help but connect with a reader in the most positive manner.

The quizzical poem ‘My Criterion’ makes clear Colette Bryce’s fondness for the writing of poet Emily Dickinson and without leaden obviousness drops a nod the latter poet’s obsession with mortality and in doing so the whimsical four lines maintain the central theme of the collection whilst amusingly delving in pensiveness:

                        She writes New Englandly.

                        How do I?

                        Derrily? Verily.

                        Irelandly? ‘Northernly’.

                        Emigrantly, evidently.             (‘My Criterion’)

The fourteen-part title poem begins, ‘M has disappeared’ and interestingly the final line of the final poem in the collection, ‘A Last Post’, ends with, ‘at which they always disappear’.

Appearances and disappearances; beginnings and ends; the transitions between those become characteristic.

Part 1 is a collection of measures: ‘final’, ‘OK’, ‘basics to sustain’, ‘happy enough’, ‘more love’ but comes down to the five times, coffin-nailed: ‘final’.

Part 2, arrives in Melville-fashion, every image to but not from, Moby Dick. 

                        The great nothing breached like a whale

                        and submerged again, just to remind us,

                        or rather inform us it is always there,

                        all times, all place,

                        monstrous in the depths.

Its fourth verse:

                        your name will unfix like a limpet from its scar

                        and birl away

                        in ocean’s eddies,

                        a waltzing teacup, and you, dear M,

                        plus all of us, will become unspoken.

Such lyricism. The Scottish word, ‘birl’; the fairground unrealism of ‘a waltzing teacup’ spin the mind.

Part 4, on entering M’s residence, is journalistic in its police-fumbling exactness.

Part 5, flashes back to M’s innocence, duped by sellers and traders.

Part 7 is subtitled, ‘The Whereabouts of M’ and shoots straight from the hip,

                        Don’t let’s talk about the underworld and all that crap.

as Bryce enters the heart of any home, the kitchen, before moving to the limbs of M’s residence.

Part 10 is reminiscent of a scene in ‘Silent Witness’ and followed by Part 11 where M’s isolated body takes the reader to a lonelier and unexpected contemplation.

The M Pages says things directly, imaginatively and deeply.

Ric Hool 27th May 2021

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