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Caroline Bird
Watering Can
Carcanet £9.95
Review by Catherine Woodward

 

‘Someone gave me a video of your entire life./There’s a twist at the end/when you discover that you and your mother/are actually the same person’ (The Videos).
From this beginning I knew that Watering Can was going to live up to the expectation I’d built of Caroline Bird. The blurb had told me that Bird was exuberant and surreal, (two things I prize in poetry) and I pictured a book of poems that was lego coloured, peopled by animals in suits and fun, ridiculous situations. I was pleasantly surprised to be right on most counts and besides, Bird came up with better characters than animals in suits.

Watering Can deals with the anxieties of early twenty-somethings. In her unique fashion Bird meets with the familiar phenomenon of standing on the cusp of life, daring to look both forward and back, and makes it bright with humour, sarcasm, tenderness and pathos.

Bird’s irrepressible style has really grasped the essence of this uneasy time, and is a model of that new, familiar and humorous voice which is currently making up what I like to think of as our ‘new new poetry’. Bird constantly solidifies abstract anxieties and concepts and carries metaphors through to the point of the ridiculous. Take The Monogamy Optician for example, where the idea of ‘wandering eyes’ is taken to its logical yet absurd conclusion ‘He said ‘Unfaithfulness is a product of surplus sight’…‘Your peripheries will be surgically removed’’. This ridiculousness is coupled with Bird’s familiar and conversational tone, which straps all of these fantasies to the real here and now and flares up the absurdity of this time of life in stark contrast. This contrast allows her readers to perceive her subjects with incredible clarity while at the same time being greatly entertaining.

Put another way, the harsh realities of misplacing a Tuesday, of finding that your old school bullies populate the luxury real estate of the moon or of having Love itself die in your arms in a public street, hit home the be all and end all nature of our young anxieties about marriage, success and the way life appears to pass with incredible speed. These feelings are as strong as the surreal realities Bird makes of them.

And yet no situation in Watering Can seems absolutely hopeless, every poem carries some of Bird’s comic sweetness and the darkest subjects are strangely cheered by Bird’s absurdist play. Peaked for example reads like a bitter poet venting spleen on a world which has outstripped and misunderstood her but is set in a play school ‘My novelette about the hippo/was mistook for a comedy,/Miranda, that cunning bitch,/read her poem in class,/’My Doll’ it was called,/pretentious crap: immature,/clunky.’

One of the best qualities of this collection is the fact that although the adult world is calling to us, childhood is a character which never fully disappears. It is a ghost in these poems, coming through in fantastic fairy tale situations, figures from childhood and its bigger, uglier, adult inversion. It torments and supports us and we are unable to entirely abandon or placate it. Bird presents us with a full picture of the maturing experience, of what we could become and how it is inseparable from what we’ve been. Our future potential is echoed by our past selves and not only does Bird use childhood to make her poems dear and beautiful, but as we’ve seen from Peaked the absurd pairing of the child and the adult in this awkward age are an endless source of comedy.

How Bird handles this subject seems remarkably simple but is immensely effective and has made for a hugely entertaining and beautiful read. What we have in Watering Can is something new and wonderful which has in it the tender and humorous zeal of the very best of today’s very new poetry.

 

 

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