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Samara by Graham Mort Illustrations by Claire Jefferson (4Word Press)

Samara by Graham Mort Illustrations by Claire Jefferson (4Word Press)

The name Samara evokes different intriguing meanings. It refers to a winged seed and is a girl’s name in Arabic and Hebrew that translates as ‘under the protection of God’. It is also the name of ancient Iraqi and Russian cities and is linked to prayers and poetry too, that is, it has a spiritual quality. In the title poem the connection with the natural world, the sycamore tree where the children play, whose ‘seeds whirled to/chance existence’, the ‘insect wing’ and ‘brooched ladybirds’ creates the context. Humans are part of nature in a relationship that is enduring but also in danger. We are taken into this ‘vortex of air’ that is indefinable but also points ‘above us […] with its long climb to heaven.’ The allusion to a possibly more harmonious dimension in which humans and nature merge in an empathic relationship with animals seems to be crucial in this short collection.

      The poems were written over several years and have been illustrated more recently by Claire Jefferson, a retired interior designer based in South West France, who is the artist in residence at The High Window, an online magazine, and is also a poet writing under the pseudonym Stella Wulf. According to Jefferson, ‘painting is the poetry of sight, poetry is the painting of insight’; she believes that they are therefore connected in an artistic comprehensive vision, as they are in this collection. Graham Mort is an award-winning writer and emeritus professor of creative writing at Lancaster University who has published ten collections of poetry and three collections of short fiction; the latest is Like Fado and other stories (Salt, 2021). He has also worked for international writing development projects.

     Mort’s work questions the human condition, emphasising relationships between individuals and the animal world that propose more inclusive alternatives. The poems in the collection focus on different aspects of flora and fauna that are connected in some way to human reality. Humans and non-humans interweave both in the pictures and in the poems, which move awayfrom traditional prosody and experiment in rhythm and sounds. The images reflect and describe the poems in a figurative way and were probably realised after the composition of the collection. They provide a visual background that sets the scene rather than tell the story. Indeed, the expressions of the animals depicted in the pictures are human-like; they speak to the viewer in a significant way, emphasising the dynamic element present in language:

A diamond-tip shard

                of flint, a jade arrowhead

flirted under the saffron

                trumpet of courgette

flowers just beyond my

                 brogue’s print on dark

rotted soil; hatched

                 from the ragged spawn

a cold spring let into

                 our pond; now amphibious,

lunged, miniature;              (‘Froglet’)

     The structure and the rhythm of the lines reflect the sudden appearance of the little frog, its swift movements and its mysterious yet alluring presence. The complex, spiralling use of enjambments suggests sensations rather than descriptions. The result is musical and lively; it is a vital force that speaks of fierce survival. The cycle of loss and renewal occurs in a language that records shape-shifting movements and vanishing entities; they are expressed in a powerful poetic voice which goes beyond time and space and is always fresh and thought-provoking:

Grey-backed,

             bronze-finned,

platinum-scaled,

              sculling water clouds

when sediment

               scuffs up,

gills raking out

               oxygen to their

chilled blood.                     (‘Carp at Meyral’)

     A new beginning seems to be envisaged in the poem ‘First Born’ despite our migrant vanishing nature that is ‘lost before the dark.’ This condition is existential as well as contingent in an open ending that is not final but implies more connections and possible communions between humans and non-humans. This reading is based on attentive observations and a creative interpretation of the natural world and of the significance of our presence in it. A possible new harmony is envisaged that does not exclude questioning and dramatic aspects but always implies inclusiveness. 

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 9th January 2022

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