Smyth is a skilful word master; there is much precision and restraint in her writing. In this collection of over 100 poems the reader is always aware that the poet is very much in control; everything is in good order, she unfolds her poems, layers them on the page without a hint of over-writing. She gets the balance just right.
“What does this stillness do to the body?
Incremental expansion like chocolate weight.
The green puts its mouth down to the water.
Thin drifts come to blue the high lake’s window.”
First Days in the Caha Mountains
Smyth is a poet who inhabits many bodies; at turns art historian, explicitly in From Trouville, 1865 “The old Academy duffers / have rebuffed him once again. / The dying rooms for every trophy girl / or blandest babba. The lost lily of her eyes. Millais saw it. / Blankness this side of disappointment sinking in” and implicitly in other poems through exacting colours:
“the spread of wither, a dried winter’s red”, “fallen splash of accidental gold”.
At other times she delves deep and fishes out from herself, the girl
jumpy with life”
who later craves “to be supine / or sat on a stook of grass / apart / from everyone.” Now You’re a Woman.
She tells of her father at 80 who “expected the sea to stop”, an oyster “working a skin of pearl”, a fairytale princess who “glides the hidden needle / from her laced cuff, / pierces her finger hard, / sees the red pool spread / a map of deepest sleep” and of Héloïse who “waits on pins behind gated walls”.
I’m reminded of Bishop when she wrote “all my life I have lived and behaved very much like the sandpiper – just running down the edges of different countries and continents, ‘looking for something’”. Smyth’s journey feels like a quest, that she is trying to capture something “the essence of anything and shine through in another world.” She shines.
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