Blood Child by Eleanor Rees

I was already a fan of Eleanor Rees before I read her third collection Blood Child (Liverpool University Press). She had won my admiration with her second collection Eliza and the Bear (Salt). It was a mesmerising read; dark, bloody, sensual and wild. Rees is a poet who embraces the shape shifting power of border crossing and this is realised even more fully in Blood Child. In the collection routes are above and below, within and without. Rees flits between animal and human, and questions constantly, often without answers, leaving a magnificent ambiguity to her work. I can’t format the  quotes exactly as the text so I can only give an example; the real beauty is in the original text as found in the book below.

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The poem that opens the collection seems to set up Rees’ thoughts on border crossings. A Burial of Sight, begins with the lines,

Sometimes there is another city,

light and wide,

shifting on continental plates—

The flowing pattern of the lines, with regular indents creating white space, echoes the flowing imagery that Rees weaves and guides her reader through. She suggests there is another place, just there but not fully realised; ‘splayed out/as you travel/to the other boundary.’ The narrator of the poem is strolling towards a ‘subtle river’ in ‘sun-brown’ dusk. These precise images focus the reader on the moment that is being experienced so they can see the terns or the river even though it is ‘far from here, far over.’ The reader can feel the sea wind that forms ‘an opening’ and the massive implication that suggests; the movement between worlds, between city and countryside, animal and human. Rees writes,

Love, here’s a warm evening.

We are above and over,

skimming treetops,

hovering like dragonflies.

Our wings also gold and turquoise.

She moves from the dreamy, languid suggestion of flight to the simile and finally embodies it with the metaphor. The uncertain reality, slipping between a feeling of reverie to a definite embracing of the animal (in this case insect) gives power to the narrative. Border crossing allows a discarding of rules and expectations so the landscape can be inhabited and embodied. In the poem Rees slips between light and colour, drawing the light into the lungs, so the narrator sinks into the surrounding environment; ‘meld place to place./ I am shadow./ It is my skin./’

There is a sense of the ancient in this poem, of old gods and mysterious nature powers. Suggested by a personified sun ‘waiting gently for dawn’ and Stone man, ‘hard and persistent’ that draws the ever curious gaze of the poet. One moment the poem is full of light and the gaze is directed upwards and then it descends deep into the ground; ‘I dig for your roots so deeply held,’ seeming to note an archaeological dig, asking, ‘What does it look like underneath?’ The narrator asks questions throughout the poem and following images answer and don’t answer. Here Rees writes,

It looks like night.

Pinpricks of light filter through the churned soil.

Stars? Yes but also fires

on a plain, a valley of houses

low in mist

beneath a heavy winter browning light.

Always the feeling of being in many layered places at once; now, then and future. The present reality intrudes, the built up, man-made interruption. Couples appear on the path, ducks, ‘waddle over tarmac,’ so that, ‘Consciousness is a sharp bite: a hailstorm.’ The poem culminates in an even more ecstatic embracing of the animal border crossing that suggests a longing for the natural. Geese fly above the city park, ‘In the night I am with them,/ solid wings slapping against air currents,/ almost like thoughts,’ and ‘my feathers a sheen of dusk-light.’ Rees uses powerful language ‘big handed’ and ‘huge.’ The animal/human narrator is defiant and exultant above and beyond. The poem ends with strong statements, ‘I skim you. I steal your dreams,’ and ‘I swallow them into the beat of my wings.’ The imagery is playing with the light and the movement between here and there, ‘I fold you into the barrow of air.’ Rees embodies the goose and everything in the landscape, ‘I hold it all here…in the hook of my goose heart.’ It is a remarkable journey poem that questions, focuses, slips between and rises with the goose/human above the landscape which beats with the, ‘Hot goose heart’ and the promise of deeper questioning, ‘I’ll burrow for you.’

I have focused on the opening poem of the collection, but be assured that the rest of the book is equal to the opening. The title poem Blood Child is dark and compelling; Rees utilises a chilling refrain throughout and uses the colour red to paint a mythology of a girl and mother that is returned to in the collection like threads weaving through a tapestry discovered in the earth. Faded, indistinct, wild animals have been living in it leaving their musty smells, but it still has the human story to tell, brutal and dramatic. Rees unpicks the threads and arranges it as stories that have their roots in fairy tale but always one eye is on the modern environment; the layered city and ancient landscape. Cruel mothers, seal skins, bird men; the collection is packed with intriguing re-imaginings. Blue-Black ends the collection, once more soaring above the landscape and looking down with gull’s eyes at the view. This echoes the goose at the beginning and gives a satisfying circular feeling to the collection. It is always the landscape that stands out as I read; it blurs between worlds and the narrators suck in the air, the sand, the earth. They are the landscape and the landscape is them. I haven’t said anything critical. That is because I found the collection to be faultless in both the scope of enquiry and the execution of the poetry.

You are here to risk your heart

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

Louise Erdrich

Connamarra’s Wooing

For World Book Day  I created a shared story that would be read out over the day at the high school I work at. The background information would be read in tutor time and the story in five parts during the lessons that day. I got the idea from another school librarian at a librarian meeting I attended. The other librarians were so knowledgeable and interesting; they had some excellent tips to encourage reading. I am looking forward to the next time we meet up and sharing other ideas.

I wanted to choose a short story that had a connection to our school and after some research I found out that a famous writer did attend the school in the past.

Edward Bradley 1827 –1889

He was the second son of Thomas Bradley, surgeon of Kidderminster, who came from an ancient Worcestershire family.

After education at the Kidderminster grammar school, which is now called King Charles I School, Bradley went to University College, Durham in 1845.

He took the pen name Cuthbert Bede and published many popular works. One of the first ever attempts at a newspaper comic strip was “The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green,” by Cuthbert Bede in December 1851.

He died, greatly regretted by ‘all who came into contact with his kindly personality.’ His obituary said ‘We knew him as an ardent student of antiquities, a diligent collector of folk-lore, and a bright narrator of shrewd observations and varied experiences. ‘

cuthbert bede portrait

Edward Bradley was very interested in folklore and legend. This story, Connamarra’s Wooing, is selected from, ‘The White Wife,’ published in 1868. It re-tells an old Gaelic legend. I chose it because it was short enough to not take up too much lesson time but full of romance and thrills.  You can read the whole book HERE

the white wife

Part 1:

It was in the olden days when the beautiful maiden Connamarra was beloved by the two youths Lergan and Fengal.

In her heart of hearts she favoured Fengal; but it became necessary that she should bring both of them to an open trial for her hand; and it was agreed, that whomever of them won the day, should be allowed to marry the maiden in peace, without incurring further enmity from his rival.

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Part 2:

The trial that was chosen for them by Connamarra was this.

At the mouth of the loch was a rock over which the sea dashed in white foam.Starting from the shore, Lergan and Fengal were to take their currachs (boats) round the rock, and whoever of them, on their return, touched the shore first with his hand, should win Connamarra for his bride.

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Part 3:

On a day they came to the trial. They stripped for the contest, that the currachs being lightened might fly the swifter over the waves.But Fengal took with him his heavy battle-axe; and, when Connamarra saw this she feared that its burden should weigh against the stroke of Fengal’s oars.

Then she watched them from the beach, and marked how their light currachs danced over the waters, springing foward with rapid bounds as the oars lashed the spray.

Fengal was the first to round the rock; but Lergan drew close upon him.

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Part 4:

Fengal strained every nerve; but, though he laboured excessively, Lergan’s currach passed by him, and led the way to the shore.

Connamarra’s heart sank within her at the thought of soon being claimed as Lergan’s bride.

Then Fengal seized his battle-axe, and with one blow, cut off his left hand at the wrist; and, seizing the severed hand, he hurled it over Lergan’s head.

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Part 5:

Then, just as Lergan was about to spring onto the shore, he saw the hand fall before him on the beach; and the voice of Fengal was heard saying, “Connamarra is mine; for it is my hand that has first touched the shore!”

And Lergan yielded the maiden, and strode away, heavy at heart.

But Connamarra went to her lover; and, with her own robe, she staunched his blood, and bound up his limb.

And Fengal said, “’Twere better that the hand should bleed, and not the heart.”

And thus he won his Connamarra.

connamarrafengal

 

Poetry Bites

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Tue 22nd Mar

Poetry Bites

7.30pm (Doors 6.30)

This month’s guests are Matt Black and Ruth Stacey.

Matt Black, based in Leamington and Sheffield writes poetry for adults and children, often inspired by what he hears and reads in the world around him. His latest book for adults is ‘Footsteps and Fuddles: Laureate Poems’ and for adults and children, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat and the Turtles of Fun’. He was recently Writer in Residence at Moor Street Station.

Ruth Stacey, based in Worcestershire, is a writer, artist, librarian and tutor. Her debut collection, ‘Queen, Jewel, Mistress’, poems in the voices of British queens, is published by Eyewear.

“One of the top 10 venues for poetry in the UK” (Susan Richardson, Radio 4).

Tickets on door or by email from jacquirowe@hotmail.co.uk (07971 018 825).  Food served from 6.30, readings start at 7.30.

Tickets:  £5 (£4 Conc.)