Racheal Boast, Void Studies: Review

There is so much movement in this collection of beautiful vignettes, whether through the physical movement of the characters in the poems or the movement of the elements that meander through the poems. From the opening line “Late night like unopened letters” it feels that these are secrets whispered to the reader, elusive and illusory, precious things to be clutched close and cherished.

The sparsity of punctuation also creates the sense of movement and a sense that these poems are fleeting, images which dissolve off the page but linger in the reader’s consciousness thanks to a vividness in lines such as

“The smell of sunlight on river-water

in shocks and tints ruins the calm mirror

of sleep and the disciplines of the dark.” in ‘Sunday’.

Thanks to the prominence of reflections in poems such as ‘Anonymous’ “seeing my face fragment/ then disappear recollecting” and ‘Quicksilver’ “The more I look the less there is of me/ on a clear day by the edge of the water”, there is also a dream-like, Chagall-esque tinge to this collection. These poems are impressionist and question the solidity of memory – sight and reality are frequently questioned which adds to the sense of otherworldliness.

Most poems are couched in night, such as ‘Night Porter’, ‘Human Torch’ and ‘Night of Echoes’, which, together with these other poems in the first section of the collection create a sense of the deliciousness of night snatched from the jaws of dawn – of human experience created in the space between daylights where everything is bathed in shadows and nothing is what it seems.

The second section continues in a very similar vein, opening with ‘The Glass-hulled boat’, referencing a physical manifestation of the motifs of reflection and water. Here the poems are also small vignettes, little snapshots of moments refracted through imagery and lines as stunning as “The sky will pause for its lazuli hour.” One of my favourite poems in this section is the wonderful ‘Clair de lune’

“Mellifluent moon on the lips of the crazy

tonight the orchards and the towns are greedy

the stars are the affinities of the bees

of this luminous honey that drips from the vines

for all that is sweet falls from the sky

each ray of moonlight a ray of honey.”

The musicality of the language in this poem is as enchanting as Debussy’s composition, but it’s not just the assonance here that bewitches – the images themselves are magical and it is Boast’s skill in presenting something as mundane as moonlight in a way that feels incredibly fresh yet familiar that makes this such a wonderful collection.

The final section of the collection is titled ‘Poems of the Lost Poem’ and here the poems change from couplets to a sonnet form – although the sense of otherworldliness remains. Night and darkness and moonlight provide the backdrop for many of these poems and there are yet more masterful iterations of moonlight. In ‘Orpheus’s Cloak’ (in itself a wonderful description of evening), the moon is “floating in a ballet of dark silver.”

Many of the images in this collection have floated from the page and lodged themselves in my memory – I don’t think I’ll ever look at the moon in a way that doesn’t conjure Boast’s words. The layers of imagery are astonishing and I was mesmerised by the way the poem plays with rivers and reflections, creating a world that is soft and smudged at the edges.  She suggests in the very last poem in the collection ‘Coda: Lost Poem’ that this “book is merely a cover” but my goodness, what a cover.

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