Selected Poems by Kate Clanchy

 

It is the delicacy with which she transforms the mundane that makes Clanchy one of my favourite poets and this selection opens with ‘Slattern’ from her debut collection of the same name. In terms of the sequencing of the collection, this is a beautiful note on which to open, where she explores the notion of leaving bits of oneself behind in memories – a fitting opening for a collection of poems that will tease more from these experiences and weave them into poetry.

When I was first introduced to Clanchy, I was mesmerised by her ability to twist simple objects into something beautiful in unexpected ways. Phrases like “low secret steps of her spine” and “flush of my fear is sharp/ as the taste of an iron pipe” are so effective because they are so easily conjured in the reader’s mind. Her imagery is a joy and reading this collection was an enriching experience, like dipping oneself into a luxurious bath and feeling the warmth spread through the body.

However, that is not to say that her writing is overly sentimental or shies away from challenging material. Her exploration of TV soap operas illuminates the darker undertones of the fictional communities and there are a number of poems which deal with grief – I still cannot read For Absent People without tearing up.

Another facet of her poetry that I love is the sympathy she uses in her description of people: Clanchy never passes judgement, but presents all her subjects with warmth. Perhaps this is enhanced by the minutiae of the detail she uses: we feel she really wants us to see her subjects for what they are, not what we think they might be.

My favourite sequence of poems in the collection are the poems of The NewHome Cabaret, where we see the development of her new home. In this section, she transforms the DIY tasks associated with renovating a home into a beautiful exposition of the relationship between people and place and builds a sense of time and continuity through her examination of small details such as dust, carpet underlay and orchards.

The collection finishes with a longer sequence that tracks her child’s development in a touching and emotive series of poems. These poems are charming and manage to be both heartwarming without using cliche or oversentimentality. Her relationship with her son is not always easy and she weaves the wonder of her love for her son with her frustration at the difficulties of being a mother to a young child.

The blurb describes her as “witty, lyrical, keen-eyed and truly accessible” and it is this keen eye that makes her poetry so powerful, encouraging her reader to see the beauty in trivial things and find lyricism in the mundane.

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