Abegail Morley has the talent for the cool, long-line lyric. Snow Child, her second collection, is rife with the viscerally felt modulations of a mind ill at ease. These poems are pre-occupied with “love”: a word moved from poem to poem (“your mouth a love poem”; “love hurts”; “We pile up love songs”), or present behind what is actually said (“my body yearns for you at night”; “your name burns my skin”; “I want your footprint. Just one”). Sometimes things don’t seem to add up. “Unstable” flits beautifully through “mercury”, “beauty”, “later” and “gravity”, but the success of the central conceit depends on accepting the mercury that is being stepped in affects one’s gravity. “I learn this from him” plays with this mismatch suggestively: a man who writes “love poems with loops and doodles around the borders” serves slightly bitter coffee. Sentiment is flirted with before being undercut (“I think he’ll put his thumb / on the dimple in my chin, but he doesn’t”). Between poems words retreat, only to regather and recollect themselves. Morley’s subtlety is not always obvious from single poems read in isolation, but as she herself writes: “there is a deficiency in loss / it cannot be found”.
“Light” recurs with particular insistence: A “trick of the light” becomes “a squat of light” or more pointedly, “when you go… you leave part of yourself in the hallway, trapped in the afternoon’s half-light”. The unsubtle “love hurts” sentiment is transfigured into a delicate longing. The mindset of a protagonist during “visiting hour” is unsettled by “light”; saved by paradoxical obliquity: “I move from the room with the piercing light”. That “with” allows resistance to remain unoffered; to avoid being looked at directly one must move in the right direction. “Water” is another motif (“rain weeping from our sleeves”; “you leech into the water”; “nothing smells of you / it pelted with rain last night”). Liquid becomes a paradoxically stable way of expressing loss. These reiterated words all seem part of the grander scheme of, as the final line of the collection has it, “trying to catch myself, before I disappear from view”.
TLS 30th March 2012