It’s a real pleasure to review Abegail Morley’s recent collection, starting with the delightful cover by Jenny Meilihove, – and you might say a cover isn’t the right place to start but, let’s face it, it’s a powerful make or break part of any book, especially poetry. In the case of Snow Child, the image reflects so exactly the delicacy of the writing, with its gentle and attractive style, which only gradually reveals itself as something not quite, in fact not at all right, in the world Abegail inhabits through her writing. Like her first prize-winning collection How to Pour Madness into a Teacup, the work is beautiful but unsettling. It’s no coincidence that the very first poem is called Unstable, and immediately shows the surreal way things are going: “Quite unexpectedly this morning / I splashed my inner light / on the hallway floor …”
Although most of the poems are sombre, there is wry observation as well. The small irritations of sharing a home with someone are illustrated, not by major problems, but the last-straw incidentals which get you when nothing in a relationship works any more. In Moved in she says: “He’s the type of bloke who hisses through his teeth, /whistles in the loo when it’s dark. / His alarm clock/makes a rowdy din at 6am. “ Yes, well, clearly this man’s on his way out. But be warned, there’s explicit pain to come: Mud, “I wait for you, one hand over my mouth” (what an image) and Family album, are almost too painful to read … ‘On the scan you are tiny – a whiteness / in a dark sky ….. You stitched yourself to me with fisherman’s nylon,/sharp needles where your nails should have been. / But even in my warm belly you were unformed” … when I first heard this poem read aloud I involuntarily blurted out that it was “terrible”. What I meant was that the subject and the way it was expressed were almost too much to bear.
How to deal with pain, one’s own, or someone else’s, is always a perennial question, although many poets, especially women, manage it in a hugely impressive way. I’d put Abegail Morley into this category, she’s laid poems of pain on the page without complaint, with the gentleness that the best poems can find, which allows them their own roads into the reader’s mind.
It’s particularly compelling when the poems dip into the surreal again. In Breaking up, someone “steals the sense from her sentence”, “Last week in Starbucks / he snatched away the letter L / …….. when he starts on the vowels,/she’ll disappear completely”. I love the way the fantasy world mixes with the reality of Starbucks. A few pages on, and we’re having coffee in Costa, but still nothing’s straightforward … “We drink here because of the rain forests,/ We’re saving them.” Although in Body she’s more relentless, … “I am certain someone said / the dead grow larger at night .. “
Oh Abegail. Further on, and I’m in the poem Hospital ward with you, I’ve been drawn so deeply into pain … “I brandish my scars at the moon; they are no deeper than its seas, / not struck thick like impact craters, not a patchwork of black and white …”
“If we die, just for a little while,” says Abegail in Against the rain, “we see ourselves running onwards, / we can close our already closed eyes / and watch the white in the light of our lids.” and at the end of this same poem: “We need to die for a moment / and watch our present greet us, / like a stranger in the street / mistaking us for someone else.”
In Snow Child, love occasionally holds out the hand of hope, although nothing’s ever fulfilled. But they are the least sad of all the poems, and one hopes some may develop, in future, into a kind of happiness. In Make me love you, Abegail says: “You taught me how to pinch the sky / and let a gap breathe through the crack, / slowly pulling apart our thumbs and fingers / to capture a person at great distance.” Perhaps such distance will lessen in the next collection.