Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Winter Dreams and Candles - Janet Philo's "Under-hedge Dapple" (Three Drops Press)

Published by the innovative Three Drops press, Janet Philo's Under-hedge Dapple is a beautiful collection of 17 lush, bewitching poems inspired by alchemy, mythology, art and fairies, and oozes with an ingredient so often missing from today's British poetry - the love of language - as well as being beautifully illustrated by Kim McDemottroe.


Windfall apples;
silver slices clean
through sweet-stinking,
brown thumb-sinking,
cider-breath decay 

Thus the book begins, with the earthy, authentic imagery of Autumn Alchemy seeming to portend of deaths or ends, only to be succeeded by a seeping swathe of juicy colour:

Beetroot's wrinkled robe slips off;
inside she simmers,
all heart.
Her blood pools purple,
like the blackberry's perfidious smile, 

But it is a smile that is undulating with / curls of crawls of crawling worms, whose

juice laden load
implodes in mouths
of joshing fools,
taking summer home, 

Before the poem has reached its end, we have been treated to amethyst, indigo, winter dreams and even the Devil himself - and as if this delicious descent into a friendly Hell were not enough, the next poem segues into one of Antiquity's most harrowing legends. Cloud Woman is based, according to the footnote, on Ixion, a mortal who tried to seduce Hera, wife of Zeus. Zeus tempted Ixion with a cloud woman in the shape of Hera, then punished his transgression with eternal torment on a wheel of fire.

As she drifts out of reach, all form dispersed,
pricked by the heat of him, she drips through air;
her eyes are arctic-calved and polished bright
with tears that roll through empty space. 

The poems float through folklore, drift through winter mists and sleek bracken fronds / dripping green lifelines / of androgynous beauty, cast their lanterns over dragonflies, pumpkins, California poppies and awesome beasts charred in orange and black, a magical tapestry woven around the titular theme, where fairies dwell under hedgerow leaves, and smash / surface tension / on dew drop / perfection, and are pictured as Sloe-eyed and watchful:

they wait
for the sun spots
to scatter their wings with
shot-silk iridescence
stolen from nymphs 

 Under-hedge Dapple is a suite of poems tinted in Keatsian autumnal beauty, peopled by an impish cast of surreal presences - the Green Man, maori folklore, the poet's own alter-egos embodied by reflections on the art of Jackson Pollock:

Another me fell,
out of control,
into briars and blood
and blackberry stains,
printing red nettle weals
onto floral chintz
in patterns of pain. 

Another me fell
under cool bracken curls
to the earth-scented world
of autumn-crunch cushions
as rioting rainbows
dissolved into green. 

The poems traverse the globe, one moment bathed in Greek myth, or recounting the experience of working with an artist from New Zealand, the next planted firmly in the Midlands-born poet's adopted home town of Redcar, where:

February frost
pours from the nostrils
of Arctic white horses
tethered at the tideline,
broken on the sand. 

You are as likely to be enchanted by the hardy post-industrial landscapes of the Cleveland seafront, where Turbines, like stilt walkers, / stride to Seaton, as by the triumphant evocations of Louise Bourgeois' spider sculptures:

Freaky giant spiders
are mother-weavers,
spinning spiral webs and
mapping silent journeys. 

Do read Under-hedge Dapple. You will be entranced by pictures of the sea, delicately re-told stories from William Blake, tales of turbans seen for the first time by child's eyes, by birds and rainbows, sequins and beads, green dreams, candles, ebony elephants, and moonlight shining from the eyes of cats. You will encounter mermaids, myths, and magic, sacred spheres and sea birds, united in a poetry which is at once fantastical and rooted in a respect for the Earth and all her children

An edited version of this review will appear on the website Sabotage Reviews

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