Parallax, Sinead Morrissey

Morrissey’s T.S.Eliot Prize-winning fifth collection is defined by the poet at the outset as Parallax (Astron.) Apparent displacement, or difference in the apparent position, of an object, caused by actual change (or difference) of position of the point of observation.

It’s a collection about perception and paradoxes, opening with 1801, inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s ‘The Grasmere Journal’, outlining from the beginning that these poems will shed light on different viewpoints in a new and illuminating (and often unsettling) manner.

Her collection is filled with surprises and arresting images – my copy is full of post-it notes and annotations where I’ve been forced to pause and appreciate the sheer mastery of the form. One of my favourite poems in the collection is ‘Shadows’, combining the mundane experience of a railway platform on a February morning with such exquisite phrasing as

“Lady other, Lady mine, if I stood here all morning

I’d watch you retracting back like drowning soap.”

Here, the poet is external to herself, creating an unsettling feel, but also demonstrating how sometimes we need to extract ourselves from our surroundings to fully see and appreciate the world around us.

Morrissey jumps through time, from poems about Shostakovich to private memories like those in ‘Home Birth’ to others that are more political in tone such as ‘Display’. Peppered throughout are surprise personal observations such as ‘Lighthouse’ – it is almost like this is a collection of annotations of history, a fresh perspective on otherwise well-trodden paths of events.

However, it’s not a collection filled only with history and grand ideas. There’s also a lightness to the collection in the humour of lines such as “She’s learning this house/like a psalm” in ‘Daughter’ and Morrissey shows her skill at weaving completely unrelated topics together in fresh and arresting ways with a touch of humanism in poems such as ‘V is for Veteran’, where a P6 spelling book is meshed with the Vietnam jungle, The Wire and worries about a crying newborn to astonishingly subtle effect.

As a collection, I find it difficult to define. Morrissey uses a number of different forms and there are no clearly concrete forms. But the voice throughout is quiet and assured, the observations are sharp and astute and each poem plays with sound in interesting ways. Overall, it feels incredibly controlled, particularly ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, a long series of tercets about the minute details of labour that walks a tightrope between excitement and panic and the mundanities of everyday life.

The blurb quotes ‘A Lie’ “the different people who lived in sepia”. As a quote, this best consolidates the collection – a different way of looking at the world. Particularly pertinent as we turn to face a new year.

 

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