Pippa Little has an impressive CV. She is a Scottish poet, reviewer, translator and editor. She has a PhD in contemporary women’s poetry and has published five collections, featured in numerous competitions and has a huge list of wins to her name. She is what might be described as a ‘serious poet’ in that she knows, without doubt, how to write and owns a confidence in her style that is well deserved and well earned.
Her latest collection, Twist, with Arc Publications is beautiful to behold. Before I describe it, I feel I must say something about the cover image. It’s a piece of art work titled Impairium by Caitlin T. McCormick and features what look like bat skeletons, or flying dinosaur skeletons, created by stiffening crocheted string. It is an absolutely perfect image for this collection of mythical, personal, often disturbing poems full of intense imagery and unspoken emotions. Little, like McCormack, manages to depict something intensely intricate, curiously beautiful and disturbing, all at the same time. I’ll admit to not having read a great deal of Little’s work before I came to Twist, but this is one of those collections that makes you seek out more from her.
The book has several threads, all of which are, if not dark, then certainly brushed with darkness. Family is big here – roots, travel, the distance between loved ones, the dynamics of families and geography all feature. But the poems are never about those themes, the themes are the wool fabric onto which the poems are embroidered, they are present as an undercurrent to the poems. Little seeks to show us the world by capturing the everyday architecture of life, the mundanity of tasks and somehow transforms them into more, much more, than the sum of their parts, as in Moss Side Public Laundry:
Childless, I come with a rucksack
no Silver Cross to steer topple high
as those bare-legged women in check coats,
bulging shoes, who load and unload
hawsers of wet sheets, wring them out
to rams’ horns while heat-slap of steam
dries to tinsel in our hair, frizzles our lips
gritty with Daz’s sherbet dab, and the mangle
wide as a room-size remnant
never stops groaning: one slip and you’re done for…
Little uses imagery to surreptitiously depict class, place, sex, the bare-legged women and room-size remnant are carefully placed to imply a working class land of chapped hands and hard work and a steamed camaraderie which is honed to a pitch in a deft turn in the poem:
…Maggie Maggie Maggie Out Out Out! blasts
from across the park, whole streets
get knocked out like teeth…
This whole collection says something about the world, viewed through the personal. It is not a shouty, attention-seeking collection, it is quiet. Its message is implied, a quiet statement of presence and stamina during riots and hunger strikes.
Many of the poems have a dream-like, drugged quality of omens and prescience, but this is not a wishy-washy collection as some over-mythologised collections have the tendency to become. The strange, mythical, drugged dreams of poems add texture and tone alongside the scaffolding of housing estates and cobbled streets. There is history here, some of the poems are narrative, eulogising common folk, whose stories might not otherwise be told. This mixture of the personal, political and historical might have been clunky in another poet’s hands, but this is seamless. Like a story narrated in which travel and purpose, belonging and remembering, reminiscing, forgiving is integral to the plot.
It’s difficult to find fault here. While it’s good and right to have a critical eye when reviewing, I would not want to nit-pick Twist – it’s just too good.
By Wendy Pratt, Poetry Correspondent
Twist by Pippa Little is published by Arc Publications