Poetry review: 20/04/20
by Charlotte Ansell
Our reviewer finds how deep poetry can go.
Deluge by Charlotte Ansell is her fourth collection of poetry, as well as a A Poetry Book Society Recommendation. It is a collection that tackles a wide range of themes, such as family, friendship, nature, water, time – all with care and unwavering honesty. Ansell’s book is one that I had to digest slowly, as the poems were not light, but layered.
Family is a keen component of this collection, and in Ansell’s writing one gets a feeling for those closest and most important to her. We see glimmers of her children and husband as if they had run into the room, not self-conscious, just being themselves. The poems concerning her family are like home movies, occasionally blurry and held at the wrong angle, but intimate and containing real feeling. Through her poems, Ansell shows us the profound, unquestionable and desperate love than only a mother can feel for her children; a love that goes beyond reason or love for oneself.
However, Ansell also shows us the ugly side of family, the side that all of us experience but don’t want to admit. Poetry is often an effective form for exploring the unspeakable, and in some of her poems Ansell turns our head and forces us to look when we’d rather look away. She speaks of how she feels her children have taken from her, in time and in terms of what she could have achieved without them. She talks of that little voice in our heads that spreads fear by telling us our husband is going to leave us. She speaks of the familiar feeling of being fed up with your spouse, but weathering it all the same, because contrary to popular belief, love isn’t comfortable or linear. It may have enjoyable properties, but no one ever promised it would be those things. Shockingly, Ansell even writes of an incident of domestic violence in the poem ‘Phoenix’. Sometimes a poem is not there to offer any further conclusion on a matter, it just lets the subject matter sit, and that was the case of this poem.
England is a big part of this collection. We are shown different areas of the country, from London to Sheffield and more, and are privy to Ansell’s sharp, atmospheric, private observations, social and otherwise, with regards to these places. This can be seen in the poem ‘Flat Caps and Ferrets’, in which Ansell writes:
‘We bring our London ways north
suspicious of the stranger on the towpath
who asks: Are we settling in alright?’
I gained a sense of a patchwork England in Ansell’s work, each patch worked on individually, unique and sewn to all the others as part of a greater picture to create a rich tapestry of entwined and layered threads.
Part of this theme of journeys is that of water, as the title of the collection suggests. We are shown the paths water takes and the effects it has – what it is to coexist with it. Within the pages of Deluge water is personified, seen as a friend, sometimes an irritating or difficult one. This is shown in the poem ‘Dear Canal’, in which Ansell thanks the water for ‘returning her youngest – twice!’
Water as a symbol sits well in this collection. We get a sense of the flow of Ansell’s life throughout this book, just like the rivers she has lived on. Water, like Ansell’s poetry, represents what it is to be a woman, is feminine; resistant, often working quietly but making a marked difference and resisting definition.
The journeys on these pages are not just physical or related to the land, but of ageing and the passage of motherhood, time, and its loss. Reading this collection, I thought that it takes a substantial chunk of your life to write poems such as these. This is seen in the poem ‘Love Song To London During the World Cup’:
‘You were subdued on Thursday as England
failed to perform again and I too was chastened,
a jealous ex who can’t quite turn away
after six long years.’
In this collection I felt the full spectrum of what it is to be a woman, and as well as the aforementioned roles of mother, wife, friend and traveller. I was bemused to recognise the strange, complex and often uncomfortable relationship between women in these pages.
The poems in Deluge are everyday poems, poems from life. They are accessible and they will resonate with readers in their relatability. These poems made me feel close to Ansell, it was like going right up close to her or sitting next to her in her home. The last two poems of this collection, ‘Drowning’ and ‘Containment’ offer a solution to the diverse situations presented throughout this collection, that they could be improved, eased or in some cases just tolerated with more kindness and empathy.
Review: Setareh Ebrahimi.
Charlotte Ansell – DELUGE
Flipped Eye Publishing