Met Obs is a large pamphlet, lovely to hold and look through, with superb black-and-white photographs by Jen Lindsay. You are encouraged to take your time over these poems: even a four-line poem will usually be in the centre of an otherwise blank page. And they need time: they have a fullness which allows for sudden new directions, jump-cuts, and startling changes of register. There is a strong presence of what feels like rural Suffolk, a particular house and garden, and its surrounding natural world; of night; and also of the sea and seashore. There are other human presences. The idea of a world in endless transformation is there in the first poem, ‘Moly’. The middle stanza has a steady focus on sleet on a ploughed field until, in its third and last line:
‘a seethe capsizing me unmoored strangeness of raw’
Through its characteristic patterning of sound (seethe/me moor/raw caps/ness), we feel the plough and the sleet moving under us. The last stanza is prayer-like (‘shelter me night the roots of the mind are tender, frail’), the wind is ‘in the earth’s rigging’, and ends with almost homely directness: ‘I am out of true’.
Voyaging is explicit in the very enigmatic title poem, ‘Met Obs’. Short for ‘meteorological observation’, a nautical term, referring to a reading or record, as the epigraph to that poem has in brackets, ‘mid-atlantic 0200 hrs’. Night time, at sea, a wondering alertness…very much the provenance of these poems.
A lover is openly present in ‘Scatter’, which introduces the ‘we’, ‘We climbed that storm’, continuing with the poignant ‘mostly hope, mostly bent towards/the other…’ , adding the evocative and positive ‘slipping our moorings’, and ending where characteristically the erotic (‘your hand round me in me’) meets a tiny shock, the surprise of ‘you/crackled…’ And there’s the delightful ‘Below 0 ° C’:
the birdbath is moon, cold niche, midwinter
stash, icefield, clamp, pent, chock of sky.
There are flaughts in my ribcage
rips in the skylid. From a spent
maize strip rook-black ejecta sling
which ever way the wind.
Below 0° C I’m not my own light, cariad,
as I cup my smithereens to your keelbone.
The music of association, the sound of one word suggesting another, pent/spent, rib/lid, cage/maize, sling/wind, etc. helps create the sense of an openness to a winter’s night and to the beyond, and though there’s cold outside, there’s the warmth of the lovers’ bed in the extraordinary last line (‘cariad’ is love or sweetheart, a word of Welsh provenance).
At the end of ‘Horizon’, the characteristic images of earth and sky are also suggestive of the explosive physical effects of human encounter:
No one utters a word for, on some days, the violet
violence of that meet place, the power load, the tightrope.
But it gets dark it rains and there’s that sweet
unseen pulse-point no you were my heart, and we did touch.
The voice breaking in, in italics, with the poignant ‘were’, ‘did’, unsettles the poem even as it completes it.
The relation between text and photo seems to be one where each is allowed to speak for itself: only ‘Stilts’ seems to take one as its starting point, where vaguely stilt-like old iron stanchions protrude from a grassy hillside.
The book finishes with ‘The Angle of Dip’, but its first line is by this stage probably not how you expect even a Lizzi Thistlethwayte poem to start!
Life is a massive con, hurrah…
especially when four more lines start with ‘hurrah’ (including both ‘hurrah for rain at last’ and ‘hurrah for a roof that doesn’t leak’!) Nevertheless, the casual ‘what-the-hell’ freedom here is characteristic. Once the speaker confesses to the ‘sin of a veerable soul’ and continues with the playful charm of the adaptation of the 23rd psalm, ‘for even though I walk in the valley of sensible shoes/I cry like a child’, the poem ends with
Q. Should I appear nonchalant or full of holes?
A. I am here, under the rain, already miles away
both possibilities still open, the protagonist not to be pinned down, elusive, as her poems are, as the world is.
Martin Hayden 2nd June 2022