Reviewed by Mollie Baxter
A paper pig suspended in flight
My origami is quite shite…
Many will know Barrow-based Ann Wilson from her time as South Cumbria Poet Laureate in 2006, or from her work with performance poetry organisation Apples and Snakes. She performs as compere, stand-up comedian, poet and, sometimes, ukulele player, possessing a very fine pink ‘Flying V.’
Her poetry collection, ‘Synesthetic,’ as the title suggests is ‘inspired by the colours of emotions and sounds,’ and is divided into 5 colour-coded sections. Many people have experienced ‘sense-blurring’ a neurological phenomenon whereby those sections of the brain which respond to a particular sense are triggered by sensory input from another. As it happens, I have long been used to ‘seeing’ words in colours and have been quite exasperated when told that ‘Monday,’ is a blue word, when it is quite clearly red, so I was interested to see how Ann interpreted the colours in relation to the poems’ subject matters and use of language.
The poems resonate strongly with the author’s on-stage persona; images and ideas are direct and sincere, sensitive to listening ears that seek to connect to the poem on a single hearing.
Skip a Beat
Skip a beat,
In terms of theme, Ann’s poems often present a speaker determined to communicate, reaching out to establish connections, seeking and offering warmth and safety. These connections are often fraught with obstacles, ‘It seems like life’s a conversation on a train I always miss.’ Interestingly, trains make regular appearances, but in negative roles: bringers of dislocation and threat.
Being a stand up comedian as well as a poet, one would expect Ann to include humour and so she does. In ‘Gazing,’ we’re told,
‘A paper pig suspended in flight/my origami is quite shite.’
But humour is also used with poignancy to reveal a difficult relationship with a mother, in ‘Cupboard Love,’‘She called it cupboard love/she lived inside a shoe/Only two children but she didn’t know what to do,’and it was good to see this darker flavour being introduced to give new textures and dimensions to the humour.
One of my favourite poems is ‘Drying Up,’ a study of a tea-towel and the childhood memories both happy and sad connected to it, moving from ambivalent memories of tea-towel flicking between a caring brother and sister to the grandmother, ‘holding it under a scalding tap/her hands red raw/her proud of not feeling the pain.’
Because of the nature of the book’s title and premise I was interested in how the poems moved through the colours in progression. We are not introduced to the colours in terms of theme, so we must bring our own connotations. In ‘Deep Blue’ therefore, I expected darker feelings of sadness and although more determined than desperate, many of the poems do contain a deep yearning for connection. Part 2, ‘Red,’ is frequently linked to passions like desire and rage and indeed, ‘The Play Area,’ and ‘Drying Up,’ possess moments of red-hot anger and pain. I would have been tempted to put poems like ‘Cupboard Love,’ from the Deep Blue section into ‘Red’ also, but after all, ‘Monday’ was red for me too..!
Next we move into Part 3 ‘Orange,’ a nourishing, spiritual colour and the first poem is aptly titled, ‘The Sanctuary.’ The second poem, ‘Inhabit’ brings new light and space to the collection’s landscape.
‘I will create room/find subtle lights/ for dark corners/lay down a rug/ and invite you in.’
But darker shadows are never far away. In the same section two poems ‘Vinyl’ and ‘The Designer,’ seemed distinctly ambivalent surrounded by the warmth and light of the sanctuary’s orange. Perhaps though, we can find the over-reaching theme of the collection within this apparent contradiction: growth is an ongoing process of losses and gains, connections made, knowledge learned, and love given and received, it is never a permanent state of arrival.
In Part 4 ‘Pearly Blue,’ there seems to be a necessary act of reconsolidation after the ambivalence of ‘Orange.’ In ‘She Writes to Understand Herself,’ we learn, ‘She started to resist/returned to the page/she was out of place,’ and ends, ‘she put her pen down, danced for a while.’ There are no easy answers then it seems, no permanent states to find ourselves in: we learn and change constantly.
In ‘Green,’ the final section, ‘On Music,’ returns us directly to the themes of synesthesia, of seeking connections and gaining understanding.
‘I’ve been searching for a logical explanation/I’ve been trying out some sound de-sensitisation/and I know what soothes me, doesn’t soothe you/ what you can live with depends on what you’ve lived through.’ These are lessons hard learned with a large and generous spirit. Happily, an equilibrium and acceptance seems to have formed, and the joyful and life-affirming end piece, ‘It’s All A Ride,’ is a fine conclusion.
It’s All a Ride © Ann Wilson
Let there be fairgrounds.
Let children walk freely into welcoming light.
Let world leaders tumble down helter skelters.
Let flames in ghost train of crime
become dragons’ fire to fuel each journey.
Let our roller coaster moments of terror
be photographed, framed and displayed.
Let there be fairgrounds
so we don’t deal in money but in fizz bombs,
pop songs, affirmations and clichés.
Let the hall of mirrors show hidden perspectives
so we never feel betrayed.
Let dealers cut candy floss, let all highs be safe
and let feathered nests of found souls
be beacons on fairytale towers of luxury and grace.
Let there be fairgrounds
so that ignorant minds are ignited
by the spark from a pyrotechnic display
and those who raise the mallet of power
find peace with prize golden fishes,
so each funhouse is filled and no one is homeless
and divorces in dodgems end in laughter and kisses.
Let there be fairgrounds.
Let wonder waltzers spin away censorship.
Let their circling orbits take us on a galaxy ride of inspiration.
Let the log flume cleanse all doom
and let the Queen of Speed take those in need
faster and safely around each sharp bend.
Let there always be a thank you sign
in the light at the end of the tunnel.