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The Dancing Sailors: Ann Pilling

The Dancing Sailors (Indigo Dreams) is Ann Pilling’s second full collection. She won the Poetry Business Pamphlet for Growing Pains in 2007 and her first full-length collection, Home Field was published by Arrowhead in 2008.

Pilling’s opening quotation is taken from Stephen Spender’s “I Think Continually of Those Who were Great” and it is that remembrance than runs through this collection.

There is often a sense of reaching out to something that is no longer there. In Watching for the Otter “… something splits the skin of the stream, a bruise / slicks the water then / it’s flat as lily plates again.”

Within in the collection there is a sense of voyeurism; the watcher watching or being watched, whether by bird, man or the past. In Gimmer Lamb things are there and not there at the same time; a sheep looks at one moment like a cast-off t-shirt and another like a face. The poem moves from one of acceptance to one of anxiety as her mind runs ahead in the spread of the land, over fells and summits and beyond, into her own dark imaginings:

“If it’s left, what worms and birds don’t eat

will dry out, whiten

to linen on a bleaching green, a walker

may grind it under foot.”

Pilling goes further to imagine what happens beyond the period of decay and absence, until she draws us back to the scene of a man who has come from a far country to this very spot and

“stands scattering ashes

in a place somebody loved”

which brings us back to remembrance.

In the title poem, The Dancing Sailors Pilling speaks of suicide,  “your slacks bulgy with pebbles”, Woolf in the Ouse and “Van Gogh’s final cornfield” with a fragility which is intensified after reading her note at the back of the book. This is a collection of recollections, memories, and the journey of the human spirit.  I’ll end with the last two lines of Spender’s poem:

“Born of the sun they travelled a short while toward the sun,

And left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

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