Three June Releases: Allen-Paisant, Cowen and Mosse

Two poetry offerings and a short memoir this month. A similar strategy is at work in both verse volumes: Jason Allen-Paisant contrasts Jamaica and England via the medium of trees, and Rob Cowen comments on current events through the prism of the natural world. In Kate Mosse’s first nonfiction book, she reflects on bereavement and caregiving.

 

Thinking with Trees by Jason Allen-Paisant

Allen-Paisant, from Jamaica and now based in Leeds, describes walking in the forest as an act of “reclamation.” For people of colour whose ancestors were perhaps sent on forced marches, hiking may seem strange, purposeless (the subject of “Black Walking”). Back in Jamaica, the forest was a place of utility rather than recreation:

In Porus life was un-
pastoral
The woodland was there
not for living in going for walks
or thinking
Trees were answers to our needs
not objects of desire
woodfire

But “I give myself permission / to go outside,” he writes, to notice the turning of the seasons, to commune with trees and birds, even if “there is nobody else like me / around here”. Explicitly calling into question Wordsworth’s model of privileged wandering, he injects a hint of threat into his interactions with nature. Most often this is symbolized by the presence of dogs. Even the most idyllic of scenes harbours the possibility of danger.

beware of spring
believe you are

a sprout of grass
and love all you see

but come out of the woods
before the white boys

with pitbulls
come

The poet cites George Floyd and Christian Cooper, the Central Park birder a white woman called the police on, as proof that being Black outdoors is inherently risky. There’s no denying this is an important topic, but I found the poems repetitive, especially the references to dogs. These felt like overkill. While there is some interesting enjambment, as in the first extended quote above, as well as internal and half-rhymes, I tend to prefer more formal poetry that uses more sonic techniques and punctuation. Still, I would be likely to direct fans of Kei Miller’s work to this collection.

With thanks to Carcanet Press for the free copy for review.

 

The Heeding by Rob Cowen

This poetry and art collaboration arose out of a “pact to pay attention” during a year of lockdown in the UK and record observations of nature, current events, and everyday life. Cowen is drawn to the moors near his home in Yorkshire, but also yearns to spend time with his friends again. He watches hawks and blue tits, notices the insects that fill his garden, and celebrates the way that allotment gardening brings together all sorts of people.

The emotional scope of the poems is broad: the author fondly remembers his brick-making ancestors and his honeymoon; he sombrely imagines the last moments of an old man dying in a hospital; he expresses guilt over accidentally dismembering an ant, yet divulges that he then destroyed the ants’ nest deliberately. There are even a couple of cheeky, carnal poems, one about a couple of teenagers he caught copulating in the street and one, “The Hottest Day of the Year,” about a longing for touch. “Matter,” in ABAB stanzas, is on the theme of racial justice by way of the Black Lives Matter movement.

My two favourites were “Sunday School,” about the rules for life he’s lived by since leaving religion behind, and “The End of This (Drinking Poem),” which serves as a good-riddance farewell to 2020: “Let me shake off / this year the way the otter / slips out of fast, rising water / and makes the holt just in time … / Let me rid my days of caution and fear, / these protocols and tiers / and Zoom funerals for people I love / and will never see again.” The book is worth the price of admission for the latter alone, and Nick Hayes’s black-and-white woodcut-style engravings are a plus.

However, in general I felt that the balance of current events and nature was off, especially compared to books like The Consolation of Nature, and ultimately I was not convinced that this needed to be in verse at all. “Starling,” especially, feels like a straight knockoff of Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words (“We forget that you once shimmered through frozen air, ripple bird. / Shape-shifter, dusk-dancer. Murmurer, sky-writer”). Judging from Cowen’s Common Ground, this would have been more successful as a book of short prose diary entries with a few poems dotted through.

With thanks to Elliott & Thompson for the proof copy for review.

 

An Extra Pair of Hands: A Story of Caring, Ageing and Everyday Acts of Love by Kate Mosse

Mosse’s parents and mother-in-law all moved in to live with her and her husband in their Chichester home when they reached old age. Her father had Parkinson’s and died in 2011, her mother survived him by a few years, and Granny Rosie is still going (reasonably) strong at the age of 90. This is a compact and relatable account of a daughter’s experiences of caregiving and grief, especially with the recent added complications of a pandemic.

What came through particularly clearly for me was the older generation’s determination to not be a burden: living through the Second World War gave them a sense of perspective, such that they mostly did not complain about their physical ailments and did not expect heroic measures to be made to help them. (Her father knew his condition was “becoming too much” to deal with, and Granny Rosie would sometimes say, “I’ve had enough of me.”) In her father’s case, this was because he held out hope of an afterlife. Although Mosse does not share his religious beliefs, she is glad that he had them as a comfort.

The author recognizes the ways in which she has been lucky: as a full-time writer, she works from home and has the time and energy to devote to caring for elderly parents, whereas for many – generally middle-aged women, who may still have children at home – it is a huge struggle to balance caregiving with the rest of life. What is more, money is no issue for her. Repeating some of the statistics from Madeleine Bunting’s Labours of Love, she acknowledges that the situation is much more challenging for the average person.

I can see how this could serve as a great introduction for someone who hasn’t previously read much about bereavement, caregiving or old age, and I imagine it will especially appeal to existing fans of Mosse’s writing, whereas I was new to her work. I’ve read so much around these topics, including most of the works included in the bibliography, that the book did not offer me anything new, though it was a perfectly pleasant read.

Readalikes I have reviewed:

Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Be With by Mike Barnes

All Things Consoled by Elizabeth Hay

The Fragments of My Father by Sam Mills


With thanks to Profile Books/Wellcome Collection for the free copy for review.

 

What recent releases can you recommend?

7 responses

  1. I think I enjoyed The Heeding (at least on a first read) more than you. The illustrations certainly make it a more attractive volume. I particularly enjoyed the introduction, the one prose bit – but need to glance through the poems again before firming my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree the introduction was particularly strong — another reason why I think this could have been an all-prose volume! It’s hard to know what to think when authors dip into a genre they’re not known for. I’m pretty picky about poetry, yet find it difficult to pinpoint what I like. A je ne sais quoi of form + technique + subject matter.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wouldn’t describe An Extra Pair of Hands as a pleasant read. Perhaps from the position of someone not directly involved in the caregiving process, but not for those of us who are. That said, I think I understand what you mean. It’s written in an easy style; it is indeed an entry point. To describe it as pleasant suggests a degree of detachment and I suspect that anyone currently or recently involved in care-giving, watching their parents battle mounting health problems through their final years and months would disagree with a description of pleasant. For me it’s the voice that I feel I’ve not had throughout our family experience. Mosse has captured – very gently – the full gamut of care-giving – pandemic and all. At this time I don’t want what I suspect will be the more raw memoirs. Although I do have several of them here, including Notes on Grief, I don’t feel able to begin with them. Mosse’s approach has been an entry point and and, in recognising my own experiences so clearly, a source of balm. All being well, I’ll write my own review of her book. If nothing else it has been part of what I hope will be my re-entry into blogging again 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry my review triggered you. I meant that I found the reading experience pleasant because, as you say, her style is easy and gentle and, I’m sure, comforting. I’m glad the book resonated with your personal experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. buriedinprint | Reply

    Are all three of these books you opted to read, or were you solicited to read some of them? Currently I don’t have any poetry in my stacks, but I did just finish a memoir, Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu. It might contain a little too much artistry/philosophizing for your taste (I’m not summarizing this necessarily clearly, but I feel like there are some elements here that I’ve recognized in other memoirs that I’ve enjoyed more than you have, in an everything-connects-to-everything kind of expansion that I find exciting and you find a little-all-over-the-placey). And I recently finished Hiromi Goto’s new book, Shadow Life, which would make a nice companion for that Kate Mosse book (but quite different, great energy though). And Rooted, which I enjoyed every bit as much as you did!

    Like

    1. The first two were offers I accepted from publicists (on the basis of the press release and my previous enjoyment of the author’s work, respectively), and the third I requested specially — I’ll read just about anything published by the Wellcome Collection imprint.

      The Owusu memoir sounds good. I’ll add it to my list for sure.

      I’m so glad you liked Rooted!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] This was my 11th book from Padel; I’ve read a mixture of her poetry, fiction, narrative nonfiction and poetry criticism. Emerald consists mostly of poems in memory of her mother, Hilda, who died in 2017 at the age of 97. The book pivots on her mother’s death, remembering the before (family stories, her little ways, moving her into sheltered accommodation when she was 91, sitting vigil at her deathbed) and the letdown of after. It made a good follow-on to one I reviewed last month, Kate Mosse’s An Extra Pair of Hands. […]

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