Poems in this collection, stunning in language and shocking in theme, pivot on paradox. In the section called ‘Confetti’, for instance, in the six-part sequence ‘She’, the reader is led into the beauty of a sensory garden with flowers and nests filled with ‘soft pink fledglings.’ Instantly, the flowers are yanked out by the roots, nests are lobbied over the wall and those small fledglings are, horrifyingly, shredded into confetti and scattered. In Breakfast at the Origami Café, we are in a world half dream, half nightmare, a world of masks and vanishing through cracks, a condition of ‘now-you-see-us-now-you-don’t.’(‘Gaps’).
There is violence at the heart of the poems in this collection, a tradition of violence, the memories it brings, the damage and regrets. Breakfast at the Origami Café comprises four sections all with underlying shadows and pain. Part 1, which focuses on the mother figure, is particularly notable for images of ice, knives, blood, scratches, bites and wounds. Shadows creep into the walls disturbing the unsleeping child (‘The Cloth’), the spectre of Mother is summoned back by Death, ‘Black as shadow she spreads /across the floor, or clings/to all the ghosts of the air/trying to keep her skin on’ (‘Moth’), even at the Solstice there is no brightness – no candle, no flame. ‘I am writing about the darkness,’ she says. (‘Winter Solstice’).
Tess Jolly’s use of language throughout this whole collection is striking for its vividness and originality. Her imagery is unforgettable especially in the opening section where the first line of the first poem offers us a ‘grey gown’ on a hook which then becomes the skin of a wolf with veins that can be unspooled and stitched back together while avoiding the ‘belly wound’ and the ‘ribboned arms, torn gullet, thinning bones’ (‘The Cloth’).
Another bleak and chilling motif is that of shrinking, of disappearing into negativity, vanishing through cracks and becoming ‘insectwise’ and small enough ‘to crawl through the socket/of this dead gull’s eye.’ In the marvellous title poem, a girl sitting, unnoticed, by the café window has apparently disappeared. ‘She must have folded herself smaller/and smaller’ says the narrator, ‘until there was nowhere left to go.’ (‘Breakfast at the Origami Café’).
One of the most powerful poems in the book is ‘Frog’ which has lines which make me shudder. Frog, who has taken on the characteristics of ‘an old man/on the brink of telling war stories’ asks, ‘If I can imagine what it’s like to know ice crystals are forming/ in all your inner spaces, to wait immersed in mud/ then surface in a new century’ after surviving ‘in a cocoon’ made from his ‘own shed skin.’
Violence. Is it learned or inherited? This question trails through the four sections, touching generations of parents, children, grandparents. We are given a glimpse of one who was ‘the brute in the doorway’ with ‘laughing, dancing fists.’ A young woman locks herself in the kitchen, ‘sitting on her hands so they wouldn’t ball into fists in the dark and pass on the other traditions she had been taught. In another poem violence itself has become ‘a cuddly toy I can’t give away/because it used to be my mother’s.’ This same toy, with feelings and fabric now leaking out, was once ‘plush and plump’. That was in the days when her father ‘first gave it to her.’ (‘The Violence’).
Poems in Breakfast at the Origami Café are shocking. Echoes of suffering and heartache seep into a landscape of horror and fear where ‘bargains’ are made with ‘the dark’. But there is beauty too and lyricism, earth is soft enough for the hooves of gentler memory to ‘run like they used to’. (‘Cairn’). There is support for one who ‘pilgrims on’ (‘The Cloisters’) and the consolation of knowing, at the end, that piercing cries are ‘only the gulls’ – lacing your thoughts.’
Mandy Pannett 27th October 2021