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Jane McKie
When the Sun Turns Green
Polygon £8.99
Review by Catherine Woodward


When I began reading When the Sun Turns Green I was sat with a friend, I told her that it was like porridge. From the first poems I let myself get carried away by my prejudice against the theme of nature, myth and magic and assumed that the first poems were reflective of the collection as a whole. I told my friend that it was vague and insular, that it was mushy and bland, like porridge. However, Jane McKie began to astound me; the way McKie handles her subject is highly impressive, aware and sensitive. The coherence of the collection as a whole even brought those few initial poems that I had disliked into an eloquent body that I could not deny loving. Every poem is linked to all the others with beautiful complexity. Naturally this left me feeling very silly indeed and goes to show that the personal prejudices of reviewers really ought not to be trusted!

When the Sun Turns Green is the record of a life that is lived in the world of magic. We are presented with a picture of the magic world and the real world in opposition and we watch the process of their mingling from the point of view of a woman who lives for the magic side on pain of rejection, misunderstanding and disillusionment. McKie gives us an expansive, multitextured view of this double world, chronologically developing through childhood (where a childish faith in magic and superstition keeps the speaker on one side of the great gulf between the real and the magical) adolescence and love (where love and time press against the real world with its pagan and antique symbolisms) motherhood (where the sacred things of the real world offer little comparison to the magic world it chokes) and then on into a mixing of the two and a breaking down of the world of magic. This book is a heart-rending epitaph to that last stage in particular.

This is because of the way McKie does not allow her poems to be weighed down with impenetrable symbolism, neither does she litter it with opaque and incomprehensible mythic images. She finds that point at which the real object becomes one of magic and superstition and weighs up and judges both worlds with precision. There is not the sense in these poems, as there often is with nature or myth poems, that she is speaking on behalf of her subjects and quashing them with interpretation, she is aware of the process by which things become magical and this allows her subjects to blossom under her observation. Rob A McKenzie said that the best review of a poem is to print the poem, so I’ll insert here the poem that best exemplifies this talent of McKie’s and which is now one of my favourites.

Dog, come here into the dark house.
Come here, black dog.
After the etching by Leonora Carrington

Come here.
I would bring you to heel
if you weren’t so tall
towering over me with wolfish gall
and nun’s tattered habit.
When I look at you
I wonder about the magic of all black dogs
resolving from mist at cross roads –
the antithesis of the Will ‘o the Whisp,
full of negative space, punchy dense
black matter. Your impression on the world
is one of bunching menace,
lips drawn back
over your only points of light.
But I know better: while the wind outside howls,
I can rest. You are the keeper of my dark house.

What I initially condemned as insular proved to be peopled with pictures and voices and things, it turned out to be tender, exact and knowledgeable of its subject as one that changes, grows and discovers itself, a juggling act which McKie pulls off beautifully. McKie really is an exciting talent, her second collection is a touching and uplifting journey through a very special life and something that must be read and enjoyed.



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