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Alison Brackenbury
Singing in the Dark
Carcanet Press £9.95
Review by Catherine Woodward


..........One particular marvel of human character is our defiance of the absolutely insurmountable, the tendency to believe that fragility is no impediment when dealing with things much larger than ourselves. Singing in the Dark nurtures and offers a word of encouragement to this defiance, and reminds us just how beautifully such a stand can be made.
..........Here in Alison Brackenbury’s seventh collection, modern fears and daily terrors are expanded then assuaged using the traditional form of ballad and rhyme, trivialities of modern life with its black coffee and traffic fumes, are tied inextricably into nature’s grandeur – ‘Snowed petals bloom my pail. I brush them trim./He does not – I see – wish to go in’ (Across the Street) Brackenbury allows these two lives to gently coincide and merge, coaxing the reader to an identification with not only a more innocent, natural self (a useful earth for modern times) but also a relationship with the ballad as a dying art. The old rhyme’s contemporary relevance allows us to hear its own lost song together with that of Brackenbury herself.
..........Brackenbury’s own song being of course the most improbable defiance of all; carrying a preoccupation with death the poet’s constant question is whether to deny fear and welcome the end or accept its scale and tremble; through this questioning Brackenbury manages to find a resolution between rapidly approaching age, the lucidity of memory, and death the great leveler of both. We find that in pursuing this, the poet flits deftly between despair and contentment, always with an awareness of life’s continuation, which is often grim, but its recognition in Brackenbury’s poetry adds an optimism lacking in the frequently cast aside ballads of old. For example the poem Night Shift, which tells the tale of an old mechanic, drudgingly carrying on after the death of his business partner ‘No deadlines, engine blocks, spilt oil. Its birches tremble. Max is there.’
Night Shift is one poem among many in this collection that uses the personal relevance of daily routine, mundane experience and trivialities to evidence human suffering and capability to stand against it, an enlightened magnifying trick that Brackenbury has always possessed. As such Brackenbury is much adept at avoiding melodrama in her task; though her pet cat may unannounced, flop itself down during meditations on mortality, and casual gardening accommodate loss and suburban atomisation, the mundane is met with style and intelligently graceful rhyme, the near invisible kind which is as always the best

....................What could they give? ‘See. He was beautiful.’
....................And she? Beech shadows flutter. Cool and clean,
....................A long face smiles, amused to be nineteen
....................Forever, breaking once again, all the rules.

............................................................(Young, gifted)

..........Brackenbury knows how these minor dealings of life are frequently ballooned and misused, so her pernicious powers of observation result instead in probing, highly moving poetry about you, herself and I.
..........Simply, Singing in the Dark is a beautiful creation. It is an offer of hope and promise of contentment after a life time measured by experience. Most comfortingly of all however is the collections conclusion, a warming contentment and certain joy in the quiet closing of life, it is the resolution of the challenge and death wish that Brackenbury has been defiantly singing throughout

....................Here is the voice, that easy bird,
....................The air is cool, I am awake.
....................It is utterly lovely.
........................................(Xerxes, an Opera)

 

 

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